Michigan skirts trap, powers past Indiana 73-57 for seventh straight win

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Wolverines coach explains how defense is paramount in the team's strategy and overall player development.

Coming off back-to-back wins over top-10 teams and playing on a short turnaround with Illinois on deck, Saturday’s matinee against a desperate Indiana squad had all the makings of a trap game.

Michigan’s Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers ensured there was no letdown.

The sophomore wing and senior forward combined for 37 points to power No. 3 Michigan past Indiana, 73-57, at Assembly Hall and put the Wolverines on the verge of their first Big Ten regular-season title since 2014.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 73, Indiana 57

“I’ve been impressed with how they’ve responded,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who lauded his team’s professional approach in preparing and playing twice in three days. “Today, this game was emphasized on energy.

“I didn’t want us to feel like we could walk in here and get a win. I knew Indiana would be prepared and they were going to come out with a ton of energy from start to finish. It was emphasized that we would have to be ready from the jump ball.”

Michigan guard Franz Wagner (21) drives to the basket during the first half.

Michigan certainly was as it took the lead six minutes into the game and never looked back en route to its seventh straight win.

Wagner tied his season high with 21 points — his third 20-point outing in four games — and Livers had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolverines (18-1, 13-1 Big Ten), which led by double figures most of the second half. Grad transfer guard Mike Smith added 14 points and freshman center Hunter Dickinson had 13 points and seven rebounds.

If the Big Ten title is determined by winning percentage, Michigan can clinch it with a win at home Tuesday against Illinois.

After living at the free-throw line to build a nine-point halftime lead, the Wolverines used the outside shooting of Livers to widen the gap out of the break. He buried three catch-and-shoot 3-pointers a little over two minutes into the second half to put Michigan ahead, 51-38.

“Around that 16- or 17-minute mark in the second half, we can get a large lead and guys can relax a little bit,” Livers said. “It's on guys like me, Franz, Austin (Davis), Eli (Brooks), Mike, the whole bench — you see how I'm saying everybody's name. It's not up to one person to keep the energy level up. Everybody as a team has to give. Coach (Howard) talks about not being an energy vampire and we've got to be energy givers.

“I think when everybody is not about themselves, the team plays at a high level, a national championship-level, best team in the country type of level.”

That showed as it didn’t take long for Michigan to hit the gas and deliver the knockout blow. Dickinson scored on a putback. A steal from Livers led to a fast-break finish from Wagner. Another stop led to another layup from Wagner. Another steal from Livers led to a possession with two offensive rebounds and an emphatic putback dunk from Livers, capping an 8-0 spurt and making it 59-42 with 11:23 to play.

From there, Michigan’s energy level never waned, and Indiana could never muster a run to put a dent in the Wolverines’ lead. The Hoosiers trailed by at least 12 points the rest of the way.

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Aljami Durham scored 15 and Race Thompson 11 for Indiana (12-12, 7-10), which has lost eight straight against Michigan and was without top guard Armaan Franklin (right foot injury).

Trayce Jackson-Davis, who entered the game averaging 20.3 points, was held to a season-low 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting. It all made for a long day for the Hoosiers, who struggled beyond the arc and around the rim to finish 38.5% from the field (20-for-52).

"Today's game was disappointing,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “Michigan is a terrific team and they have a lot of answers on both ends of the floor. They have tremendous size inside on offense and also inside on defense. It’s very difficult to stay in rhythm on offense because of their ability to switch.

“They just keep coming. I think as you watch Michigan you may hang around for a while, but they have the ability to sustain it throughout the course of the game.”

Coming off a season-high 21-point outing against Iowa, Wagner wasted little time picking up where he left off. He buried a deep 3-pointer and capped a 7-0 spurt with a deflection, steal and three-point play to give Michigan a 12-8 lead less than six minutes into the game.

Wagner continued to take advantage of his size mismatch and give the Hoosiers fits. He drew fouls on back-to-back possessions against smaller defenders that led to four free throws and a 19-14 lead at the 12:20 mark.

"I'm staying aggressive and just trying not to overdo it,” Wagner said. “I think that's what I did to start the season. Finding that balance of when to be aggressive and when to make a play for someone, I think it's a lot of fun playing with a team where nobody cares who scores the points. You can see the results that happen when you play like that.”

After a rough stretch allowed the Hoosiers to cut the deficit to one, the Wolverines responded with a 10-0 flurry to take their first double-digit lead. Smith knocked down a 3-pointer. Dickinson converted a three-point play. Livers and Smith each made two free throws to make it 32-21 at the 5:53 mark.

Michigan continued to feast on free throws, making a total of 16 in the first half en route to a 42-33 halftime lead and another win during a busy closing stretch to the season.

“Coach (Howard) Eisley talked about how we're going into an NBA schedule, so we have to be professionals,” Livers said. “That still rings a bell in all our heads. We went out there and took care of business today.

"Tomorrow we've got to recover, get off our feet, get back to our studies and prepare for our matchup Tuesday against Illinois."


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins