Coming off a win over Wisconsin this past Sunday, No. 3 Michigan stayed on track with a 71-64 victory over Rutgers on Thursday at the Crisler Center.
After committing just six turnovers at Wisconsin in their first game back from a 23-day, COVID-induced layoff, the Wolverines came out sloppy against the Scarlet Knights, with three turnovers in the opening minutes. Rutgers took advantage and jumped to an early 9-4 lead.
Michigan settled in over the course of the next seven minutes, going on an 18-6 run to take control. After the teams traded baskets down the stretch, Franz Wagner hit a tough floater from the baseline to give the Wolverines a 37-28 edge at the break. Michigan did not turn the ball over again in the first half after those quick three to begin the game.
In the second half, Wagner carried that momentum with him as he helped Michigan increase its lead to 17 with 12 minutes left to play. The Wolverines did have a stretch of six minutes without a field goal, but Rutgers was unable to take advantage during that stretch. Michigan didn’t close the game the way head coach Juwan Howard would have liked – with eight second-half turnovers – but the Wolverines came away with the victory.
1. Michigan 2-0 out of the pause
The Wolverines didn’t play quite as cleanly against Rutgers as they did against Wisconsin on Sunday, but it’s still pretty remarkable how good Michigan has looked coming out of its 23-day hiatus. Once the Wolverines settled in to tonight’s game, Rutgers never really posed much of a threat. It’s a testament to this Michigan team’s talent, depth, coaching and conditioning that they’ve come back against two teams in the top-half of a loaded Big Ten and come away with two victories. The Wolverines are proving why they remain the favorite for the league championship and a legit contender for the Final Four.
2. Franz Wagner was BALLING tonight
Man, the sophomore was outstanding on Thursday night. Wagner finished with 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and had the second-most rebounds for the Wolverines with seven. Wagner shot the ball about as well as we’ve seen from deep, hitting 3-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc. He also had three pretty wrap-around passes to Hunter Dickinson, which resulted in assists when the big freshman threw them down for ferocious dunks. Against Wisconsin, it was Isaiah Livers who stepped into the lead role for Michigan. Tonight, it was Wagner. That’s just one more thing about this Wolverines squad that will make them a tough out come tournament time – this team has multiple guys capable of having a big game on any given night.
3. The Wolverines get defensive
I probably haven’t spent enough time talking about Michigan’s defense this season. The Wolverines have been so good on that end of the floor. Tonight, they limited the Scarlet Knights to 3-of-12 from beyond the three-point arc, and held Rutgers’ overall shooting percentage below 40 percent for the majority of the game, before the Scarlet Knights scored a few baskets late to push their percentage over that mark. As things stand right now, Baylor may be the only two-way team (offense and defense) better than Michigan.
4. Balanced scoring for the Maize and Blue
Wagner led the way, but the Wolverines had plenty of other guys chip in offensively. Mike Smith had an efficient 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Dickinson finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds. Livers scored 7 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, handed out 3 assists and swatted 3 shots. The bench guys got in on the action as well – Austin Davis scored 7 points and added 6 rebounds. Chaundee Brown finished with 6 points and 4 rebounds. Brandon Johns Jr. added 5 points for the Wolverines. Once again, it was a full-team effort in Ann Arbor.
5. Top 5 clash between Wolverines, Buckeyes
The biggest game of the season looms this coming Sunday, as Michigan travels south to take on No. 4 Ohio State. The Buckeyes survived a scare from Penn State on Thursday, defeating the Nittany Lions 92-82 in a back-and-forth battle. Ohio State will enter the Top 5 showdown on a seven-game winning streak, while the Wolverines come in having won four in a row. The stakes couldn’t be much higher for these heated rivals – Michigan holds a half-game lead over the Buckeyes for first place in the Big Ten standings, and both clubs are vying for a No. 1 seed in the fast-approaching NCAA tournament. College basketball doesn’t get much better than this.