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Michigan poised to flex muscles on boards in Rutgers rematch

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — There’s usually a lot a team can learn from its first meeting against an opponent.

When it comes to Wednesday’s rematch against Rutgers, there’s one main takeaway that stands out to Michigan coach Juwan Howard.

Michigan center Jon Teske had seven rebounds in the 69-63 win over Rutgers Feb. 1

“Rebound, rebound, rebound,” Howard said Tuesday.

That’s because in the teams’ clash earlier this month at Madison Square Garden, the Scarlet Knights came away with 26 offensive rebounds and turned those into 19 second-chance points in the Wolverines’ 69-63 victory.

As a result, Howard has stressed defensive rebounding and the basic fundamentals of boxing out leading up the second encounter.

“You've got to have a conscious effort of really boxing out, knowing that their players are going to fly in there for offensive rebounds,” Howard said. “When a shot goes up, check and see who is flying in, make sure that we hit, box out and then go pursue the basketball. We just did a poor job last game of turning our heads and walking to the basket.”

In that first meeting, five Rutgers players grabbed at least two offensive boards — center Myles Johnson (seven), forward Akwasi Yeboah (four) and guards Montez Mathis (three), Ron Harper Jr. (two) and Jacob Young (two).

The Scarlet Knights won the rebounding battle by a wide margin, 51-37, and finished the game with more offensive than defensive rebounds. They also attempted 36 more shots.

“After that game, we noticed how many offensive rebounds we gave up,” senior center Jon Teske said. “You can't do that and expect to win. Fortunate enough we got lucky and we won that game. But if we do that tomorrow, we won't win. We've got to cut that down.”

Teske said since that win in New York, the Wolverines (16-9, 7-7 Big Ten) have worked on defensive rebounding every day and have made it a point of emphasis.

Over the last four games, Michigan has allowed 28 offensive rebounds against Michigan State (11), Indiana (seven), Ohio State (five) and Northwestern (five).

“Any time you play in the Big Ten Conference, you're playing a great team that can offensive rebound. Top to bottom, all teams can do that,” Teske said. “They present another challenge for us. We've been watching a lot of film on how we can do better and what we can do better and how to stop them from getting extra possessions.

"They're going to come from all different angles, but you've just got to know when the shot is going up and realize who the shooters are, when they have the ball in the right position they want to get that ball up on the rim. You've got to be ready and make sure you're a step ahead, a play ahead and be ready to box out.”

Howard has also learned much more about Rutgers (18-8, 9-6) since their Feb. 1 meeting. After that game, he didn’t know what the RAC  the nickname for the Rutgers Athletic Center  was and thought a question was about his team’s ability to take the ball to the basket.

However, Howard has since done his research and understands Rutgers has a serious home-court advantage at the RAC, which seats 8,000 and is nearly half the size of most Big Ten arenas. The Scarlet Knights are a perfect 17-0 at home this season.

“As I was told, it gets really loud in that building,” Howard said. “That's their sixth man. They feed off that energy…I assume that gives them a certain level of comfort.”

While Howard will get to experience it firsthand for the first time, Teske already knows what to expect.

"They're right on top of you, it's very loud. I mean, they're undefeated at home so it's going to present a great challenge for us," Teske said. "It's us 15 against all of them, all their fans."

So while the odds may seem stacked against the Wolverines, they still have a couple of trends that are leaning in their favor.

They've never lost to Rutgers and they've won their last three contests away from Crisler Center after dropping their first five true road games.

That includes the first meeting against the Scarlet Knights at the Garden, where Michigan managed to prevail in front of a crowd that was more red than maize.

“At the end of the day, it's still just basketball,” Howard said. “We have to not get caught up into the record or the success that the team has had in their building. We have to come out there and play our game from start to finish.”

Michigan at Rutgers

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, New Jersey

TV/radio: BTN/950

Records: Michigan 16-9, 7-7 Big Ten; Rutgers 18-8, 9-6

Outlook: Zavier Simpson needs four more assists to become the first Wolverine to reach 200 in a season twice in a career…Michigan is 12-0 in the all-time series and is 5-0 in Piscataway…Rutgers is 17-0 at home this season and ranks second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (37.9 percent), scoring defense (61.7 points) and rebounds per game (40.5).

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins