Saturday, January 30, 2016

Michigan defeats Penn State in Super Saturday matchup at MSG

Zak Irvin's 20 points lifted Michigan past Penn State in Big Ten's "Super Saturday" at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press)

NEW YORK -- Billed as "Super Saturday," a doubleheader between two strong Big Ten programs with vast alumni bases in the area brought Michigan and Penn State to Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon. The front end of the card, the basketball half, saw the Wolverines (17-5, 7-2 Big Ten) hold off a pesky Penn State (11-11, 2-7 Big Ten) squad by the final of 79-72. The two schools will meet again on the ice for a 7 p.m. hockey matchup.

"I think as the season's gone on, we've been able to adjust to how our shot is falling," said Zak Irvin, whose 20 points led the victors on an afternoon where the Wolverines had to gut out a victory that saw them make just six three-pointers, a stark contrast from their 14-of-25 showing from distance in the first meeting between the two programs, a 79-56 Michigan victory on January 2 in Ann Arbor. "We just noticed the shots weren't falling today, and we were able to get in the paint. That was a big part of the game."

Playing once again without leading scorer Caris LeVert, who continues to nurse a leg injury, Michigan scored the first seven points of the game en route to opening on a 10-3 run. Penn State would soon counter with the exact same spurt of their own to tie the game, but a 14-4 Michigan stretch gave the Wolverines a double-digit lead with 7:07 to play before halftime, making the score 27-17. Irvin's three-pointer from the left corner as the buzzer sounded to signal the intermission made the margin 38-26 entering the locker room.

In the second half, the Michigan lead would swell to as large as 17 points, before a 16-4 Penn State run brought the Nittany Lions within five points, trailing 64-59 with 4:48 to go in regulation. However, an 8-2 run that showcased the versatility of point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who registered four points, two rebounds and an assist in a span of three minutes, swayed the momentum back to the side of the maize and blue, who were able to hold their opposition at bay the rest of the way.

"I've coached all those years without ever sending guards to the backboard," head coach John Beilein said of Walton, who ended the day with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. "If I still was doing that, I wouldn't know what a great rebounder Derrick Walton is. I'm just thinking, maybe there's 6-10 guys he can't get, but anybody below 6-8, if it's a jump ball between them and Derrick, Derrick goes and gets it. His timing is impeccable."

With the win, Michigan's fourth straight and fifth in their last six, the Wolverines return home for two marquee showdowns against a pair of Top 25 teams, welcoming Indiana and Michigan State to Ann Arbor as the jockeying for position near the top of the Big Ten standings continues on.

"I think the last four games have been single digits with four minutes to go," said Beilein when asked if today's effort showed him anything leading up to the next two contests. "You've got to make big baskets during that time to win, and two of them were away from home. I felt very good down the stretch. I think that we're getting a rhythm right now of how to play at that time."

Michigan Tempo-Free Stats
Possessions: 66
Points Per Possession: 1.20 (79 points in 66 possessions)
eFG Percentage: .509
Free Throw Rate: 56.4
Offensive Rebound Percentage: 32.4
Turnover Rate: 10.6
Derrick Walton's Efficiency: 66.7
Walton's Effectiveness Factor: 33 (per minute: .846)

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