Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Wednesday's 72-63 road win. James Hawkins
University Park, Pa. — Michigan coach John Beilein knew if his team was going to beat Penn State, it was going to have to be at its best.
The Wolverines’ bench and defense certainly rose to the occasion.
After a shaky start to the second half, Michigan was able to recover and power past Penn State, 72-63, to pick up another resume-boosting road win Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Reserves Duncan Robinson finished with 19 points and three blocks and Jordan Poole chipped in 13 points for No. 17 Michigan (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten), which won its fourth straight and has won seven straight against Penn State. Moritz Wagner added 18 points, including a pair of momentum-shifting 3-pointers, and eight rebounds.
“We got defining bench roles right now and it was terrific the way we scored off the bench,” Beilein said. “Penn State has really got a good team ... When Duncan and Moe are shooting like that, we're a pretty good team. Jordan Poole continues to give us great energy. I'm just really proud of us.”
With the win, Michigan secured at least the No. 5 seed for the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines also remain in the hunt for the No. 4 seed and last double-bye but need both a win at Maryland on Saturday and a Nebraska loss on Sunday to move past the Cornhuskers.
After Michigan built a 13-point lead and held Penn State’s offense in check throughout the first half, the Wolverines started to lose control and the Nittany Lions began to come to life in the second half.
Penn State opened the final stanza by making five of its first six shots — highlighted by a 3-pointer and three-point play by Tony Carr — and used a 10-0 run to erase the double-digit deficit and take a 41-38 lead with 14:30 remaining, which prompted Michigan to switch to a zone defense.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, were unable to counter on offense to slow the wave of momentum — missing four of their first five shots to go along with three turnovers — until Wagner drained a 3-pointer from the corner to snap a nearly five-minute scoring drought and added another one to put Michigan back on top, 44-43, at the 12:04 mark.
“Those two buckets were definitely huge,” Poole said. “We couldn't get shots to fall and the momentum was swinging their way, but (Wagner’s) a big-time player. He's been here and he's been making big-time shots all year, last year and he stepped up to the plate. Him being one of our go-to guys and being able to knock down a big shot like that and give us the momentum back was huge.”
Michigan’s defense began to stiffen back up and helped spark the offense during a 10-2 run that featured 3-pointers from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Poole, leading to a 56-48 lead with 6:39 remaining.
After a roughly three-minute cold spell helped Penn State claw back within 58-54 at the 2:55 mark, Michigan was able to get consecutive defensive stops and baskets to put the game away. Abdur-Rahkman scored on a driving layup and Robinson knocked down a 3-pointer in transition to give the Wolverines enough breathing room, 63-54, with 1:28 to go.
Robinson, Wagner, Poole, Zavier Simpson and Isaiah Livers combined to go 9-for-10 from the free-throw line over the final 58 seconds to preserve the win.
Carr finished with 21 points — 16 coming in the second half — and Lamar Stevens scored 19 for Penn State (19-11, 9-8), which lost big man Mike Watkins for a stretch in the first half after he had to be helped off the court with an apparent right knee injury.
“I love the way we started the game. I hated the way we started the second half,” Beilein said. “It just did not have any pop to it at all. I never call timeouts (early in second half). We seemed like were tired and didn't want to play with the same conviction we did in the first half. I can't tell you the timeout worked, but the last 12 minutes we played with a lot of conviction.”
Through the first five minutes of the game, Michigan was its own worst enemy. The Wolverines had three shot attempts and committed five turnovers, but Penn State struggled to finish around the rim and missed five of its first seven shots.
When Michigan was able to clean up its sloppy play and take care of the ball, the offense started to get on track with four consecutive made shots to grab a 14-9 lead at the 12:06 mark. Robinson keyed the stretch with seven points on a 3-pointer, layup and pull-up jumper along the baseline.
While Michigan’s defense, which was stout throughout the entire first half, continued to strongly contest each, Robinson used a shot fake to break loose for a reverse layup that ignited a 14-2 run and gave the Wolverines their largest lead, 30-17, with 3:52 remaining.
Poole highlighted the spurt with six straight points on a 3-pointer and three-point play after being fouled on a thunderous fast-break dunk before Robinson splashed another 3-pointer to cap it.
“It's funny," Robinson said. "(Poole and I) are roommates on the road and we were talking about how we’ve gone back and forth coming off the bench — maybe I'd play well and he'd play well. We haven't really had a game where we both played well.
“Tonight was the night and we got to do it more moving forward.”