Down 7-0 with its best player sidelined due to injury, Michigan rediscovered the depth that it spent all offseason raving about.
The Wolverines bounced back from the early deficit in a big way, outscoring the Nittany Lions 49-21 over the final 17 minutes of the first half en route to a 79-56 win. Michigan’s offense caught fire in the first half as six different Wolverines hit a three and seven scored in the opening frame.
Zak Irvin found his three-point stroke and his swagger, finishing with 16 points and seven assists, while his teammates chipped in on their own. Mark Donnal continued his resurgence and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman reached double figures after replacing LeVert in the starting lineup. Even walk-on point guard Andrew Dakich gave the Wolverines a huge lift off the bench with his energy.
Michigan’s offense was nearly flawless on the day. The Wolverines scored 1.5 points per possession in the first half, even after failing to score on their first five possessions. In a year that’s been filled with strong shooting performances, Michigan set a high-water mark with a 73% effective field goal percentage. This was the fifth time that Michigan has topped a 70% effective field goal percentage this season — something it did only four times in the last three years combined. This team might not be as good as some previous teams, but there’s no question that this is one of John Beilein’s best shooting teams.
On both ends of the floor, the game came down to shot selection. Michigan attempted layups and threes while managing to hold Penn State to a healthy dosage of mid-range jumpers.
It’s easy to get lost in the gaudy offensive numbers, but this was a very good defensive showing by the Wolverines. Michigan’s defense held Penn State to its third-worst offensive performance of the season. Michigan contested shots at the rim, stayed out of over-aggressive help situations and played great defense on PSU guard Shep Garner. Brandon Taylor got is 18 points, but he needed 16 shot attempts and two turnovers to get there.
The overarching story of the afternoon was still Caris LeVert’s health. LeVert suffered an injury late in the Illinois game to the same lower left leg where he’s had two foot surgeries. John Beilein didn’t provide much of an update after the game, but insisted that LeVert was day-to-day and they are focusing on rehab and evaluation. Michigan is in action next against the Purdue Boilermakers, one of the in a matchup that will put one of the nation’s best shooting teams against one of the best effective field goal percentage defenses.
- Zak Irvin: Zak Irvin the creator returned in LeVert’s absence and Michigan needed his ability to make plays off the bounce. This was easily the best game that Irvin has played this season and his confidence bulged as he hit a couple early triples and finished 4-of-6 from long-range. I did think he took a few too many early shots, especially long twos, but that was the sort of confident Zak Irvin that Michigan needs — especially if LeVert is going to miss any extended time.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was just 3-of-8 from three on the night, but he hit three in a row early on and then started distributing the ball. He did a tremendous job of using his shot fake to create shooting and passing lanes for himself. His vision and even ability to take a few extra dribbles to create offense has improved leaps and bounds from even a couple of weeks ago.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal got the start, but immediately went to the bench with an early foul. His opportunity wasn’t blown though as he finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He’s not doing anything fancy other than cutting hard, running the floor with a purpose and making layups when he catches the ball around the rim. He’s also rebounding as he grabbed 8 rebounds (2 offensive) in 23 minutes on the game.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played a great game off the bench, scoring on a pair of strong drives from the top of the key and knocking in two corner threes. He also played one of his better defensive games of his career at Michigan, with a handful of great one-on-one defensive sequences. There’s not much more you can ask for from your sixth man than 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes.
- Derrick Walton: Walton clearly felt the burden of LeVert’s absence from the opening tip-off and he struggled through 32 minutes. He turned the ball over six times in the loss and Michigan was outscored by 12 points while he was on the floor. Beilein praised his two big three-point makes and his defense after the game, but everything was a struggle for Walton on Saturday afternoon starting when his first three shot attempts were blocked.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Stepping into the starting lineup against the in-state school that didn’t recruit him, Abdur-Rahkman stepped up to the challenge. He was Michigan’s breakdown guy today, attacking the basket when the offense bogged down and making something happen off the dribble. He also hit a critical triple to open the game when Michigan looked rattled out of the gate. He’s now made 7 of his last 13 three-point attempts and the threat of him at least shooting from long distance opens the offense for him to drive, or creates space for others.
- Andrew Dakich: Dakich came into the game with Michigan trailing 6-9, when he left the game the Wolverines led 33-17. He might not have filled the stat sheet, but his energy on both ends of the floor gave Michigan a huge lift.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle lost his starting spot and played only seven minutes in the win, grabbing one rebound.
- Moritz Wagner: This was one of Moe Wagner’s better showings in the last few weeks. He scored a pair of baskets, including a nice pick-and-roll finish from Andrew Dakich, and grabbed a tough rebound defensively.