It didn’t take long for Michigan’s shooting nightmare against Purdue to become a distant memory.
The Wolverines (9-6, 2-1 B1G) shot 53.5 percent from the floor and 60 percent from beyond the arc in a 73-64 win against Penn State on Tuesday in State College, tallying a 63.3 percent eFG%. Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin led the charge, respectively dropping 18 and 17 points on the Nittany Lions (12-4, 0-3).
“They’re a little bit smoother with their stroke,” Beilein said of his team’s 24-45 shooting performance after the game. “They’re just feeling better.”
Michigan needed the hot shooting, too. The Wolverines lost the turnover battle, 15-10, and only out-rebounded Penn State 31-26. But Michigan held the Lions to a 41.5 shooting percentage and survived two Penn State comebacks — one from an eight-point deficit in the first half and another from 10 in the second.
LeVert, Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr. (12 points) were the difference-makers for Michigan. The trio of guards shot a combined 58.3 percent, including 82.4 percent from the charity stripe. It’s a stark contrast to the Purdue game, when they shot a combined 20.1 percent.
Michigan’s two best players each had something to be proud of. Beilein said Levert played with more “swag.”
“They went to matchup 2-3 zone, and we were kind of stagnant a bit, so I took it upon myself to get some easy match-ups,” Levert said. “I think was more comfortable out there tonight after I got in foul trouble.”
After battling a hand injury — LeVert is no longer playing with a wrap on his shooting hand — and defenses designed around shutting him down, LeVert finally bounced back with a big game. The 6-foot-7 junior carried Michigan down the stretch, scoring six straight points to keep the Wolverines ahead and answer Penn State baskets.
Irvin, meanwhile, reached a career high with nine rebounds.
“The big thing that Coach B always tells me is that I can impact the game other than just shooting the basketball,” Irvin said. “Nine rebounds is a career-high, something I’m pretty proud of.”
Irvin carried the momentum from a few early makes into one of his mots complete performances of the year. He was aggressive attacking the basket and played great post defense against Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor — who finished a combined 2-of-13 from the floor.
Beilein started guard Spike Albrecht against Penn State to facilitate more open looks. Though Albrecht went 0-for-4 from the floor, he dished six assists.
“I watch them every day in practice. We’re a pretty good shooting team,” Beilein said. “…But we get antsy and we shoot a shot that looks open but its really not.”
LeVert and Walton Jr. seemed to be OK with the move — LeVert appreciated how Albrecht could slow the game down, and Walton Jr. said he was more comfortable with a second point guard on the floor.
In another note, Beilein noted LeVert’s injured thumb was finally fully healthy, which helped contribute to his success.
The win garners Michigan more momentum than one might think heading into Saturday’s home tilt with Minnesota. Penn State was 12-1 entering conference play and qualify as a top-100 road win for a Michigan team with a resume that lacks much punch. The start of Big Ten play has been difficult for the Lions, which have lost three straight to Wisconsin, Rutgers, and the Wolverines.