Steve Deace

"Grit"
That's the one-word answer Michigan Coach Juwan Howard gave the Big Ten Network when asked to describe how his team managed to pull off a 60-52 victory at the Rutgers Athletic Center (aka The RAC) -- without Isaiah Livers sitting out with his foot in a boot, no offense whatsoever from his replacement Brandon Johns, and foul trouble down the stretch for Zavier Simpson. Indeed, the Wolverines beat Rutgers at its own game. The Scarlet Knights like to win on effort and toughness, but it was Michigan that was the more resourceful team. Grinding out its best road win of the season thus far, by using a combination of unlikely heroes and lineups (more on that later). In the end, the Wolverines managed to get it done despite shooting just 26% from three, 66% from the free throw line, and having more turnovers than assists. 

Elite company
It was quite a night for Michigan's senior point guard Zavier Simpson. He eclipsed 1,000 points for his career, fittingly on one of his signature hook shots. He became just the fourth Wolverine ever to notch 1,000 points and 500 assists, joining the likes of Gary Grant, Rumeal Robinson, and Antoine Joubert. And his game-high 16 points carried Michigan all night, especially in the first half when he was half the Wolverines' offense. 

Defense continues to ascend
Rutgers has been top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency most of the season, while the Wolverines have been ascending at that end after a brutal start in Big Ten play. Michigan held the Scarlet Knights to only 21 points in the second half, including more than six minutes without basket. The Wolverines are now up to 19th in defensive efficiency at KenPom. 

NCAA tournament resume builder
Michigan now has its sixth quad-1 win of the season. Only nine teams in the nation have more. The Wolverines are all the way up to 12th in KenPom's overall power ratings, too.

Unsung hero No. 1 -- Colin Castleton
The lanky and still developing big man has been buried on the Michigan bench for weeks, but forced into action Wednesday night he was the catalyst that sparked the Wolverines. Just when Rutgers was up by nine and poised to put the game away, Castleton had a three point play, an additional basket, and screened off a defender to set up yet another bucket. That 7-0 run brought the Wolverines back on Wednesday night. Simpson was Michigan's best player, but Castleton perhaps its most important. Doubtful the Wolverines win this one without that outlier contribution from him, given where the game was when he entered. 

Unsung hero No. 1 -- David DeJulius
He was frankly brutal in the first half, but just as sensational in the second. That's when he scored all 10 of his points off the bench, including a clutch three with the shot clock winding down. 

Michigan's perennial February surge is officially on 
Since 2017, Michigan is now 21-7 in the month of February. When you consider all of those were conference games, and in an era of high-quality Big Ten basketball, that makes it even more impressive. 

O ye of little faith
Something had to give. Rutgers had not lost at home this season, while Michigan had never lost to Rutgers anywhere. Let's face it, as soon as you heard Livers was going to be out, again, you figured it was likely to be the latter. You weren't alone. The point spread jumped a full point and a half right before tip-off, which means bettors were pouring money in on the Scarlet Knights. Translation: the only folks happier with the result than Michigan fans were sports book operators. Rutgers had beaten three ranked teams -- Seton Hall, Penn State, and Illinois -- by double-digits in Piscataway. 

Wednesday night the Wolverines sent a message: nothing is out of reach for this team now. 

Comments (1)
Over It
Over It

Huge win! The thing I've loved over the last month is that UM is finding different ways to win... They're not a one-trick-pony. They've had grind it out defensive wins as well as lights out offensive wins and several in between. On top of that, Livers injury problems have helped build up depth that we'll need this month and next. That said, I hope he's ready to go to close out the season. All of that will make them a very tough out in March.


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