Wagner powers Wolverines to bounce-back triumph
Ann Arbor – With the taste from Wednesday’s bitter loss still lingering, Michigan was looking to quickly get rid of it.
The Wolverines found a cure, using a pair of overwhelming runs and a career day from sophomore center Moritz Wagner to pummel Kennesaw State in an 82-55 rout Saturday at Crisler Center.
Wagner scored a career-high 20 on 7-for-8 shooting to lead Michigan (6-2), which posted its best offensive performance of the season. The previous high point total was 79 in the win over Marquette.
Zak Irvin had 19 points, D.J. Wilson recorded his second double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Derrick Walton Jr. added 13 points and eight assists
"I'm proud of the way we bounced back today and answered those first 10 minutes where they really played us straight up,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We can all see (Kennesaw State’s Kendrick Ray) had a tremendous game and wore us out a little bit.
“Everybody had a job to do today, and we did it pretty well."
After a furious first-half finish gave Michigan an 18-point advantage at the break, the Wolverines continued to pour it on as Walton rattled in a 3-pointer and Wagner split two free throws to push the lead to 51-29 less than two minutes into the second half.
Kennesaw State’s Ray (24 points) cut the deficit to under 20, 51-34, on 3-pointer, but Michigan kept hammering away and put the game out of reach with a 22-4 run.
Irvin and Wilson started the game-sealing flurry with a jumper apiece before Irvin had a fast-break layup and Wilson threw down a put-back dunk.
Duncan Robinson got in on the fun with a 3-pointer, Mark Donnal hit a mid-range shot, Wagner drained a 3-pointer and jumper, and Wilson capped it with two more baskets to give Michigan a commanding 73-38 lead with 8:35 left.
Kennesaw State (3-6) never got closer than 25 points the rest of the way.
“Wednesday was disappointing. We felt we were ahead the whole time and better than (Virginia Tech) and lost anyway,” Wagner said. “We were very focused and we knew that we had to pull ourselves together and there's nothing but a win that's acceptable. That's the way we practiced and prepared for this game."
Michigan scored the first seven points of the game as it jumped out to a 10-2 lead roughly three minutes into the game. Wagner got things rolling with a step-back 3-pointer, Wilson threw down a fast-break dunk off turnover and Irvin hit a jumper before good ball movement led to his open 3-pointer in the corner.
The good vibes faded and the shots stopped falling as Kennesaw State rallied with a 13-4 run to take its first lead, 15-14, with 12:23 left in the first half. The spurt was capped with six straight points, including a layup and jumper by Ray.
The Wolverines answered with seven straight points on a Robinson 3-pointer, Irvin layup and Walton layup off a loose ball to reclaim a 23-18 edge at the 9:17 mark.
But Ray wouldn’t let Michigan pull away, hitting a tough fade-away jumper and 3-pointer from the wing to keep Kennesaw State close, 30-27, with 4:53 remaining in the half.
Michigan finally broke free and raced away with a 17-2 run to take a 47-29 cushion at the break, scoring on seven of its final nine possessions. Wagner started the flurry with a 3-pointer and Irvin followed with a reverse layup and two free throws.
Following a Kyle Clarke jumper, the Wolverines scored the last 10 points with back-to-back 3-pointers by Walton and Wilson, two Wagner free throws and a Walton layup before time expired to put Kennesaw State in an 18-point hole from which it couldn’t recover.
More importantly, it gave Michigan some much-needed momentum and confidence heading into next week’s non-conference slate against Texas and No. 11 UCLA.
“This is what they came to Michigan to do,” Beilein said. “These are great opportunities for our fan base to come out and see us as we grow because we're still in a growth area here. We got a long way to go.
“They know that this week right now doesn't make or break your season, but it could have significance in March."