Five days after delivering Michigan State its largest conference loss in 14 years and ending a five-game skid against the Spartans, the Michigan men’s basketball team had the chance to vanquish more demons when it traveled to Bloomington, Indiana on Sunday.
After beating the Hoosiers by 30 points two weeks ago, the Wolverines defeated IU 75-63 for their first win at Assembly Hall since 2009 and first season sweep over Indiana since 1995.
It was the team’s first road win of the season and only its second win at Indiana in its last 19 attempts. The victory bolstered a resume that could push the Wolverines into the current NCAA Tournament projections.
Michigan improves to 16-9 and 6-6 in Big Ten play. U-M returns home to Crisler Arena Saturday to play No. 7 Wisconsin and has a chance to earn its signature win of the season. If John Beilein’s team can upset the Badgers, Michigan would be in great shape to make the big dance.
Leading by Example
Senior Derrick Walton once again impressed on Sunday with 25 points on 7 of 13 shooting and added five rebounds, four assists and three steals. It was the fifth-straight game Walton scored 20-plus points.
The Harper Woods native ran the pick-and-roll game to near perfection in the second half and either got the bucket or found an open shooter almost every possession. Walton hit several clutch free throws late in the game and put the contest away with a steal and lay-up with 51 seconds remaining.
Walton becomes just the third player in Michigan history (Gary Grant, Jalen Rose) and 12th in Big Ten history to notch 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists.
Sophomore D.J. Wilson was the main beneficiary of the point guard’s play Sunday and at times looked like the best player on the court. Wilson had two Michael Jordan-like plays late in the game where he pump faked at the 3-point line and ran to the bucket where he acted as if he was going to dunk before going under the defender and getting the reverse lay-up.
The power forward also hit a big 3-pointer to start the game and couple brilliant turn-around fade away shots in the second half. Wilson finished with 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field. He added three blocks, including a clutch one on IU guard James Blackmon.
Fellow sophomore Moritz Wagner was outstanding as well. The German big-man notched 11 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes of playing time. Wagner’s energy was noticeable all game as he was always around the ball and wasn’t afraid to match-up with Indiana big-men Thomas Bryant and De’Ron Davis.
After scoring 23 points on Michigan in their last meeting, Bryant was held to eight points on Sunday and had to leave early when he picked up his fourth foul with several minutes remaining.
Wagner shot 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line and continued his strong play from Tuesday.
Breaking the Slump
Throughout the season, the Wolverines have made it a habit of falling into a severe shooting slump after the break and allowing its opponent to climb back into the game and thus taking control.
It appeared that would be the case again Sunday as Michigan went on a seven-minute dry spell lasting from the end of the first half and into the start of the second half. However, U-M’s defense remained strong and did not allow the double-digit lead to slip past six points.
Once Michigan re-gained its offensive momentum, the Hoosiers were never able to make a run. The Wolverines lead the entire game.
No Irvin, No Problem
For the fourth game in a row, senior Zak Irvin struggled mightily shooting the ball and scored only five points — three of which coming at the free throw line. Irvin shot 1 of 8 from the floor and has missed 24 of his last 27 shots dating back to the team’s game in East Lansing two weeks ago.
While it appeared his play would be the downfall of the team, the rest of the Wolverines have flourished with having to step up in his absence. His lack of scoring has led to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Xavier Simpson all finding their touch and has made the team much more dangerous.
Walton’s remarkable play has been the biggest difference lately, but the development from the other guards cannot go unnoticed. Rahkman is shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers in the last four games and Simpson finally looks like a D-1 player after appearing overwhelm as a freshman until recently.
Michigan shot 47 percent as a team on Sunday, but impresses most on the defensive end by holding Indiana to only 63 points at home. The Wolverines forced 15 IU turnovers and held them to only 21 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
If Beilein can consistently get that kind of defensive effort out of his team the rest of the season, Michigan could possibly make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond.