Indiana was determined to spoil Michigan’s Big Ten title celebration on Saturday night. The Hoosiers played their best offensive game of the Big Ten season, carving apart Michigan’s oft-questioned defense from the opening tip.
Indiana made its first nine shots of the game and would stay hot throughout. The Hoosiers out-shot Michigan by a wide margin, shooting 71% on twos and 39% on threes. But poor defense hasn’t stopped Michigan yet and it wouldn’t stop Michigan in its Big Ten finale.
The Wolverines kept scoring, but for them it was more routine than heroic. This wasn’t Michigan’s best offensive performance, just another great one. Nik Stauskas scored 21 points, putting the rubber stamp on his Big Ten Player of the Year campaign while up-and-down Glenn Robinson III added 20 points, including a decisive corner three with 1:08 to play.
But this was Jordan Morgan’s night. Morgan struggled to hold back tears when he was honored in pregame senior night festivities and then he scored Michigan’s first six points of the game. The fifth-year senior finished with 15 points and ten rebounds, making his final game at the Crisler Center one of his best of the season.
When the final horn sounded and Michigan walked away with an 84-80 victory and Morgan that led all 12,701 fans in The Victors.
Michigan’s offense pasted the Hoosiers for 1.28 points per possession. This was Indiana’s worst defensive performance of the season, but only Michigan’s fourth best offensive performance in Big Ten games.
This was the sixth time that Michigan’s offense had the first or second best offensive performance against an opposing high-major defense: Indiana, Michigan State (1st and 2nd), Ohio State, Arizona and Penn State.
Michigan didn’t shoot the ball poorly – 56% on twos, 27% on threes – but its 52 eFG% was below its Big Ten average. The Wolverines only hit one three in the second half, but still scored 1.36 points per trip in the second. Free throws were the difference. Michigan attempted as many free throws as field goals (24) in the second half, after getting to the line just five times in the first. John Beilein’s technical foul with 2:43 to play in the first half might just have helped a bit. The Wolverines were also exceptional on the offense glass, grabbing 36% of their misses for 15 second chance points.
This was Michigan’s third-worst defensive performance of the season, and Indiana abused the Wolverines off the bounce. Four Hoosiers topped 13 points and Yogi Ferrell led the way with 16 points and eight assists. The Wolverines were often late to help, leaving either a layup or a drop-off dunk, and just couldn’t slow down Indiana in their man-to-man defense. The Hoosiers had success doing just about anything, but their bread and butter was just inbounding the ball and running full speed at the rim off of makes and misses.
But the 1-3-1 zone changed the game for Michigan. The Wolverine defense trotted out the 1-3-1 zone on 15 possessions and was very effective. The Wolverines allowed 12 points in those 15 possessions (five points on put-backs), but forced seven Indiana turnovers.
The 1-3-1 defense didn’t just get stops, it created live ball turnovers and easy offense on the other end of the floor. The 1-3-1 zone hasn’t been a fixture for the Wolverines this season, but Beilein rolled it out quite a bit in the last two games and it worked very well. While he insists that it’s his assistants convincing him to use it, the recent success means that the 1-3-1 could be a very effective tournament weapon.
Michigan’s Big Ten season couldn’t have gone much better. The Wolverines went 15-3, beat every team in the conference at least once and got to celebrate their outright Big Ten Championship on their home floor – against the team that stole a share last season. But this team has bigger goals. The Wolverines know what NCAA tournament success feels like and are desperate for more.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas was not going to be stopped by Yogi Ferrell again. He made just about every adjustment in the book to take advantage of the mismatch this time around. Stauskas was just 1-of-4 from 3-point range, but was 5-of-9 inside the arc and made 8-of-9 free throws. He posted Ferrell, shot over Ferrell and consistently attacked the basket off the bounce — either getting to the free throw line or finishing with his ridiculous body control at the rim. When you get a shoutout from Steve Nash, it was a solid day of work.
- Jordan Morgan: Take a bow for five great years of service. Morgan went out with arguably his best game of an impressive season: 15 points, five defensive rebounds, five offensive rebounds. Morgan was a dominant presence against the Hoosiers and exploited Indiana’s small lineups. Morgan finished with poise around the basket (7-of-8 from the floor) and was active on the backline defensively, taking at least one charge.
- Glenn Robinson III: This was one of Robinson’s best offensive games of the season with 20 points on 6-of-13 (1-3 3pt) shooting with 7-of-8 free throw shooting. Robinson played one of his worst games at Indiana and made up for it in a big way. He was aggressive driving early, knocked down his favorite 17-foot elbow jumper with perfect form and then with the game on the line he made the corner three that he’s struggled with all season. Robinson was impactful with straight line drives from the top of the key, and looked as comfortable as he has all season.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert deserves credit for sticking to the plan. He struggled attacking the rim all game, but he kept driving. Eventually he started finding results, including a massive baseline dunk. He was also critical to Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone as he picked up at least five deflections at the top of the zone. He has the best length of anyone that Michigan has ever played at that spot in the zone and he’s finally getting results.
- Derrick Walton: Walton didn’t have his best game – 4 points on 1-of-4 shooting – but he did hand out four assists without a turnover. He also knocked down a beautiful mid-range jumper and buried two clutch free throws late in the game. Once again, I thought Beilein did a great job of balancing the two point guards as he’s done throughout conference play.
- Spike Albrecht: Four points and two assists in 15 minutes for Albrecht, who struggled a bit with Yogi Ferrell’s speed – who didn’t on the Michigan roster? – but he continues to be a catalyst to Michigan’s offense.
- Jon Horford: Horford was aggressive on the glass (3 off., 3 def. rebounds) and was rewarded for his offensive rebounding with four points in 11 minutes.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was 1-of-3 from the floor and played a team low 10 minutes.