When I wrote the game preview last night I was convinced that it was most negative preview I’d written since starting the site in 2007. It’s not that blogging after losses is anything new. The team lost 22 games during Beilein’s first season and last year couldn’t have been much more deflating. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t muster a positive thought before this game.
In my interview with KJ, I laid out four things that had to happen for Michigan to win: Michigan State missing open shots, Michigan rebounding 70%+ of MSU’s misses, Michigan keeping MSU off the free throw line, and Michigan shooting 40%+ on threes. On one hand I look smart because Michigan managed to accomplish all four and actually won the game. On the other hand, I look a bit too cynical because I said I’d be “shocked” if two of the four actually happened.
Michigan fell behind 6-0 in the first two minutes and appeared to be headed down the same dark road that we’ve seen far too often over the past 13 years. But Michigan didn’t fold, instead battling their way back to a 20-16 lead with 10:28 to play. I was relieved that they were still in the game at the time and would have never guessed that Michigan would hold onto the lead for the final 30 minutes of the game. Michigan State took its best shot, eventually cutting the lead to two points with less than a minute remaining, but Michigan had just enough answers to escape East Lansing with a victory.
Michigan State’s defense is never going to give up easy points but Michigan was able to manufacture key baskets when necesary. The Wolverines didn’t shoot many free throws, pull down many offensive rebounds and even turned it over more often that you’d like to see but they shot the ball extremely well. Michigan posted an effective field goal percentage of 61% — 52% on twos and 48% on threes. Novak’s early three pointers spread the Michigan State defense and enabled Michigan’s counter moves on offense (backdoor cuts, etc.) to work more effectively which resulted in several easy baskets around the hoop. If it wasn’t for horrendous free throw shooting, 5 of 12 (including 2 or 3 missed front ends), this would have been a fairly comfortable victory.
Michigan’s upperclassmen carried the offense. Morris, Novak, and Douglass combined to score 43 points with a 79% effective field goal percentage (9 of 14 on threes). Scoring measures like bench points and points in a paint are generally very telling and they prove a point today:
- Bench Points: Michigan 11, Michigan State 2
- Points in Paint: Michigan 18, Michigan State 20
- 2nd Chance Points: Michigan 7, Michigan State 6
Defensively it all came down to rebounding. Michigan rebounded 75% of Michigan State’s missed shots. That is tied for the best defensive rebounding performance against the Spartans this season. Michigan held Michigan State to an eFG% of 49% – 55% on twos and 26% on threes. The Wolverines also did a relatively good job keeping Michigan State off the the free throw line as they posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of just 33%. Michigan State scored .93 points per possession and were the first team that Michigan held under 1.00 PPP in conference play.
Kalin Lucas (27 points on 18 shots), Durrell Summers (13 points on 9 shots), and Draymond Green (9 point on 8 shots, 5 assists) were effective but the rest of Michigan State’s roster simply couldn’t produce. Michigan State’s post players (classifying Green as more of a hybrid forward) – Roe, Nix, Sherman, and Payne – combined to score 1 point total.
No one is going to deny that Michigan State is struggling this year but that shouldn’t take away from this win. A Michigan team on a six game losing streak that starts three freshmen just beat a Michigan State team, ranked #2 in preseason polls, that features four starters who have been to back-to-back Final Fours – on the road.
Photo Credit: AnnArbor.com
I’ve sat in section 218 at the very top of the Breslin Center with the 20-30 other loyal Maize Ragers that consistently made the trip. It was a painful but worthwhile experience because we all knew that, eventually, this day had to come. I wasn’t there tonight but I can only imagine the feeling – enjoy it guys.
- Zack Novak: 19 points on 6 of 9 (6-8 3pt) shooting with 6 defensive rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a turnover. Novak left everything on the floor and despite being the fiery emotional leader that Michigan needed, he was calm enough to hit big shot after big shot from three point range. Novak is shooting 53% (24/45) on threes and averaging 12 points per game in Big Ten play.
- Darius Morris: 40 minutes, 17 points on 7 of 10 (2-2 3pt!) shooting, 8 assists, four rebounds, four turnovers, and two steals. It wasn’t always visually appealing but Morris made some clutch shots and carried the Michigan offense, especially when things broke down late in the shotclock. Yes he made some mistakes but when you give a guy the ball for 40 minutes and tell him to bring you home, that’s going to happen. At the end of the day, Morris got it done.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass hit two big time shots down the stretch (maybe his biggest since UCLA?). First a step back jumper over Kalin Lucas in the lane to put Michigan up 7 with four minutes remaining and then a three to put Michigan up 5 with :22 seconds to play. He had finished with just 7 points but those shots were clutch.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway had an awful shooting game, 3 of 12 (1-4 3pt), but he pulled down eight rebounds and picked up a pair of steals. The missed free throws (3-6) were frustrating but Hardaway played hard and aggressive offensively and his rebounding was a game changer.
- Jordan Morgan: He wasn’t great but he didn’t back down against Michigan State’s physical play: 24 minutes, 4 points on 2 of 3 shooting with just one rebound and three turnovers. Morgan battled Michigan State’s bigs inside even if the final numbers don’t prove it. His biggest play of the game might have been when he blatantly went over the back of a Michigan State defender to tip an offensive rebound out to a guard. It probably should have been a foul but it was the kind of play that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Michigan State make.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz wasn’t hitting his jumper (0-3) but did grab three rebounds in 18 minutes. He obviously wasn’t the best athlete on the floor but he managed to give Michigan “neutral” minutes, which were good enough.
- Jon Horford: Horford gave Michigan some quality minutes at the five with 2 points and 2 defensive rebounds. It was clear that Michigan wanted Horford in the game when they went to the zone and he was active and aggressive, giving Michigan the spark it needed.
- Colton Christian: The moment he hit the catch and shoot jumper as the shot clock expired was when the slightest inkling of hope entered my mind. Big time shot for a guy that was 1 of 10 on the year.
- Blake McLimans: With Morgan and Horford manning the five spot, McLimans shouldn’t be seeing the floor barring extraordinary foul trouble. He had 0 points, 0 rebounds, and a turnover in less than a minute of playing time tonight.