'We just didn't make them': Frigid-shooting Michigan falls to Penn State, skid hits 3
Ann Arbor — Penn State’s Lamar Stevens let Michigan know on the first possession it was going to be a long night.
And after burying a tough fadeaway jumper over Brandon Johns Jr., Stevens let everyone in Crisler Center know it, too.
The Wolverines struggled to contain the Nittany Lions, struggled to knock down their own shots over the final 30 minutes and opened a home-laden six-game stretch with a 72-63 loss on Wednesday.
Zavier Simpson had 18 points on 23 shot attempts, six assists and six turnovers for Michigan (11-7, 2-5 Big Ten), which fell further behind in the conference race and has its first three-game losing streak since the 2014-15 season.
Johns added 14 points, Eli Brooks scored 12 and Jon Teske recorded nine points and 11 rebounds for the Wolverines, which shot 35.3 percent (24-for-68) from the field and 17.9 percent (5-for-28) from 3-point range.
"It's big,” Brooks said when asked about the concern of dropping a home game at this point of the season. “We've got to win at home in the Big Ten. Since I've been a part of here, you're in contention if you win all your Big Ten games at home.
“We can't forfeit the games coming up, so something has to give at the end of the day. You have to fight through it and take pride in it.”
A rough finish to the first half that saw Michigan miss 10 of its final 13 shot attempts spilled over into the second half as the frustration and missed shots continued to mount.
Penn State pushed its lead to 44-31 at the 17:16 mark on a 3-pointer by Myreon Jones and Michigan coach Juwan Howard called a timeout less than three minutes into the half, just like he did at the start of the game.
Despite missing 10 of its first 12 shot attempts, the Wolverines chipped away at the deficit from the free-throw line. They converted six over a two-minute stretch before Simpson capped an 8-0 spurt with a running hook shot to make it 44-39 with 13:45 to play.
It wasn’t until two minutes later that another Wolverine other than Simpson made a field goal when Brooks was fouled on a layup and made the ensuing free throw to trim Penn State’s lead to 52-45.
From the 10:30 mark of the first half to the 6:54 mark of the second half, the Wolverines made only six field goals on 34 shot attempts.
"We got open looks. We just didn't make them,” Brooks said. “I think they played good defense. We just didn't knock down shots."
As Michigan’s woes continued, the Nittany Lions ripped off eight straight points — seven coming from Curtis Jones — to put the Wolverines in a 60-45 hole with 7:06 remaining. By the time Michigan’s offense started to come to life, it was too little too late.
The Wolverines mounted a last-gasp effort with a 12-2 spurt that Simpson ended with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 62-57. But Curtis Jones provided a killer swing and dashed the comeback with back-to-back layups, putting the Nittany Lions back in control with 2:55 to go.
Stevens finished with 19 points and nine rebounds for Penn State (14-5, 4-4), which shot 48.2 percent (27-for-56) from the floor. Curtis Jones scored 18 — all in the second half — and Myreon Jones added 16.
"Our team really had great belief heading into tonight,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “I think that's 75, 80 percent of the battle is believing in what you do, believing in one another, playing for each other and being great teammates. I feel like we did that tonight.
“I thought our seniors (Stevens and Curtis Jones) stepped up. I talked to Curtis before I put him in and I said these moments are made for seniors and it's your time. He really stepped up in a big way when they started making their run. I'm really proud of our group for coming in here. We know how difficult it is to get a win on the road and in a place like Michigan it's always hard."
With Isaiah Livers missing his sixth straight game due to a left groin injury, Stevens went to work early and feasted in his matchup against Johns.
After scoring the first seven points for Penn State and forcing Michigan to take timeout 2:09 into the game, Stevens buried another fadeaway jumper while being fouled by Johns. Stevens completed to three-point play and was single-handedly outscoring Michigan, 10-8, with 14:27 left in the first half.
When Stevens checked out the game, Michigan scored seven straight points to ignite a 13-2 run. Brooks and Simpson spearheaded the spurt with 11 combined points during a stretch where Michigan was able to get out and run to take a 21-16 lead at the 10:31 mark.
Penn State answered with a 14-0 flurry to go back on top as Michigan struggled to generate offense in the halfcourt, mustering only three made field goals over the final 10 minutes.
After Teske snapped a six-minute scoring drought with layup, Stevens ended the half just liked he started it — with a turnaround jumper — to give Penn State a 37-28 halftime lead that it never came close to relinquishing.
“There's not going to be any doubt in that locker room,” Howard said. “We will not lose trust in one another. There is a lot of season to be played. You learn from games like this.
“No one said we were going to win every game this season. Yes, our goal was to win every game this season. Our goal was to protect home court, have an undefeated record at home but that has not happened. We will continue to keep grinding throughout the process.”