Photos: Jamie Owens / Gallery
Survive and advance. There’s no rule that conference wins must be aesthetically pleasing and poor stretches of play are all but forgiven based on the final result.
For 15 minutes, Michigan looked to be in cruise control. The Wolverines opened a 20 point lead and were clearly dominating the game. Indiana answered with a seemingly inevitable run of its own and trimmed Michigan’s lead down to two points on two separate occasions in the second half. The Wolverines had allowed the Hoosiers back into the game with stretches of play that were as frustrating as the opening moments were beautiful. Suddenly in a dog fight, somewhat unlikely heroes rose to the occasion for Michigan. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Stu Douglass, who started a combined 1-of-10 from behind the arc, provided late back-to-back triples to extend Michigan’s dwindling two point lead to eight. That boost provided just enough cushion to survive with a comfortable 12 point win.
Michigan’s offense was nearly flawless to open the game. It might have sputtered but never stopped and the end result was 1.17 points per trip, Michigan’s best offensive output in league play. The opening stretch was powered by hot shooting and the final survival was a product of keen free throw shooting (15-of-19 FT). Michigan’s shooting was great on the night – 54% on twos, 41% on threes for a 57.6% effective field goal percentage – but its ability to avoid turning the ball over was equally as impressive. The Wolverines gave the ball away on just 10.3% of their offensive possessions and that discipline was paramount in slowing down Indiana’s transition offense. Certainly wary of that Indiana counter attack, Michigan didn’t spend much time on the offensive glass, rebounding just 12% of its misses. The turnovers and dedication to stopping the Hoosier break held Indiana to just two fast break points on the night.
Similar to Michigan, Indiana’s offense made its fair share of shots in this game. The Hoosiers made 48% of their twos and 36% of their threes for a 50% effective field goal percentage. Those numbers are only marginally worse than their season averages and plenty strong enough to win games. Michigan held the other three elements of the Indiana offense in check. The Wolverines forced turnovers on 24% of Indiana’s possessions. Five different Michigan players recorded a steal and Michigan capitalized on Indiana’s miscues, scoring 17 points off of turnovers. The Wolverines rebounded a respectable 72.4% of Indiana’s misses and also did a solid job of keeping the Hoosiers off of the charity stripe.
Michigan’s defensive stats were strong on the game, .97 points per possession allowed, but lackluster defensive lapses were the catalyst of Indiana’s comeback effort. Fortunately a strong opening and closing defensive performance was sufficient to slow down – both literally, 58 possessions, and figuratively – the Hoosiers.
Michigan has played .500 basketball over its last six games for the majority of what was arguably the most difficult stretch on the 2012 schedule. The Wolverines are perfect at home, a game out of first place and own six or seven top 50 RPI wins depending on who’s counting. Michigan closes its tough stretch on Sunday with a trip to East Lansing. Not much needs to be said about that game as the stakes of the in-state rivalry continue to grow with every meeting.
Photo: Jamie Owens / Gallery
- Trey Burke: Burke continues to grow as a player in every game. He scored 10 quick points in the first half with two no-hesitation threes and a beautiful spin move in transition. We’ve seen those plays, but his ability to bounce back and adapt down the stretch was even more impressive. Burke was struggling a bit as Indiana put bigger defenders (Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford) on him and he also seemed to be battling some sort of tiredness (maybe cramping?) but down the stretch it was Burke making the big plays. He wanted to go to the free throw line, he broke down Indiana’s defense by getting to the lane and simply excelled in the final five minutes of play.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway’s still slumping – 4-of-14 (2-8 3pt) tells you that much – but he didn’t seem to take nearly as many bad shots as he has in recent weeks. Several of his missed shots in the second half were in-and-out open looks and his three point make with 2:58 to play was the biggest shot of the game. Hardaway’s confidence is a fragile thing but there’s no doubt that a) he thrives in the clutch and b) his entire game improves after he makes a big play. After his three point shot late he was noticeably more aggressive on the glass and took a charge in the final three minutes of action.
- Zack Novak: Novak played what was probably the worst game of his career in Columbus on Sunday and bounced back with a huge performance. The senior hit 3-of-5 triples and four big free throws for 13 points. Two of his threes were absolutely critical in slowing Indiana runs – his desperation three at the shot clock buzzer and three point make with 12:45 to play to extend a two point Michigan lead back to five. Novak was also tied for the team lead with five rebounds. In short, he played like the senior captain that Michigan needs and expects.
- Jordan Morgan: Michigan will take this sort of performance from Morgan every night: 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, five rebounds (2 off.), one turnover and a steal in 29 minutes. More importantly, Cody Zeller had 11 points on nine shots and four turnovers. Morgan made one of his baby hook shots but also missed a pair of them, still you have to love the way he’s competing down low. He looked to be the one bringing the fight to Zeller defensively rather than vice-versa, that’s encouraging.
- Stu Douglass: If Novak deserves praise for playing like a senior, so does Stu Douglass. He’s not the fiery emotional type but he’s in the midst of the best stretch of basketball of his career. His stat line: 9 points on 4-of-8 (1-4 3pt) shooting with four assists, 0 turnovers, a steal and three rebounds. Douglass was more effective inside than out (something I never expected to write), distributed the ball and led Michigan in minutes. He’s missed some big threes, and the misses always seem to be emphasized for whatever reason, but his shot to stretch Michigan’s lead to eight points late was the dagger in this game.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz is slowly putting the pieces back together, emphasis on slowly. He was far from perfect today but he did score four points on 2-of-3 shooting, grab two rebounds and pick up a steal in 12 minutes of play. Most of his minutes are going to come at the five position down the stretch because Beilein doesn’t want to take Burke, Douglass, Hardaway or Novak out of the game for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans is quietly improving and providing quality minutes at the five position. He can hit open threes (1-of-1 tonight) and sets great screens. He’s not a strong rebounder (0 rebounds in four minutes) but he’s proven himself enough to spell Morgan for short stretches.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich was late taking a pair of charges and missed his one three point attempt. The bench – Brundidge, McLimans, Vogrich and Smotrycz at once – fared well in a stretch in the first half but this wasn’t Matt’s best game.