Michigan basketball team survives at Penn State, awaits Big Ten title fate
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Michigan basketball team has now done everything in its power to capture a share of its first Big Ten title in 26 years.
For now, though, the Wolverines will have to play the waiting game.
No. 13 Michigan got 19 points from Trey Burke and 17 points from Evan Smotrycz on Sunday and eventually held off a late Penn State-rally to capture a 71-65 win over the Nittany Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center in the team's regular-season finale.
"We looked at it like this was a championship game," Michigan senior co-captain Zack Novak said afterward. "You've got to put yourself in position to be in position.
"We wanted to finish this thing out right."
With the victory, Michigan finishes the regular season 23-8, 13-5 in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines can now clinch a share of their first Big Ten championship since 1986 if Ohio State knocks off Michigan State in East Lansing, a game that was set to begin roughly one hour after Michigan wrapped up its tilt at Penn State.
Also, thanks to a Wisconsin win over Illinois, Michigan locked up the No. 2 seed in this week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Michigan will play the winner of Northwestern-Minnesota in a quarterfinal on Friday (6:30 p.m., BTN).
The Wolverines also finished the regular season 5-4 on the road in Big Ten play, something it hadn't done since 1993-94. Additionally, the Wolverines' 13 Big Ten wins is the most the program has scored since the '93-94 squad -- a Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson-led group that ended its season in the Elite Eight.
"We say it every day in practice, but now it's down to one of the opportunities you have to win a championship," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Obviously this was one, the Big Ten tourney (is another) and the national championship in the NCAA Tournament (is another). But we've talked a lot about this.
"This is what champions do on this day, they play with poise and they do the little things. We certainly weren't perfect, but we did a lot of the things we needed to in this game."
Smotrycz's scoring outburst was his best during conference play, and the most points he has scored since a 20-point effort against Bradley in December.
Burke scored 12 of his 19 points after halftime, finishing 6-for-10 from the floor to go along with three assists.
Tim Hardaway Jr. added 13 points, while Novak finished with 11.
"We looked at it like a championship game, we had a chance to tie for first place," Burke said. "But we knew we had to finish Penn State off (first)."
Penn State (12-19, 4-14) was paced by Jermaine Marshall's game-high 27 points
Michigan began the game on a torrid pace, starting the game 5-for-7 from the floor after a 3-pointer from Hardaway gave Michigan an early two-point lead.
From there, the Wolverines really caught fire.
Michigan rattled off eight straight makes during a six-minute span, resulting in a 20-4 run that was capped off by a Burke runner with 4:12 to play in the half. At that point, the Wolverines were 13-for-16 from the floor, 6-for-8 from 3-point range.
The run stretched to 23-4 two possessions later after another Hardaway triple, giving the Wolverines their largest lead of 39-21. Penn State closed on a 7-0 spurt, though, drawing within 11 at the break.
For the first half, Michigan went 14-for-20 from the floor and 7-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
The Nittany Lions got back within eight early in the second, but Smotrycz sparked a 12-2 Michigan run, which he closed with a triple from the corner, to push the Wolverines lead to 54-35, the largest of the afternoon.
"There were some moments in that first half when everything was clicking," Beilein said. "It's our job, as a coach, to be a good February and March team, and we're trying every day right now."
PSU wasn't finished, however. The Nittany Lions mounted a late charge, spearheaded by six straight points from Marshall, who capped a 13-0 run with a tip-in to make a 56-50 game with just 5:50 left.
Burke appeared to give Michigan control again a minute later with a four-point play, but Penn State immediately answered, getting a four-point play of its own from Trey Lewis to make it 62-56 with 4:09 to go.
"We kind of got complacent," Burke added. "We weren't playing to win anymore, we were playing not to lose.
"It bit us."
Penn State then found itself down just four after a pair of free throws by Ross Travis with 1:09 left, but Hardaway came up big on the following possession, sticking a 15-footer with 40 seconds left to push the lead back up to six.
Michigan added five free throws during the final 30 seconds to secure the victory.
The Wolverines finished the game 25-for-42 (59.5 percent) from the floor, 10-for-18 from 3-point range.
Penn State (12-19, 4-14), meanwhile, shot 40 percent from the floor, and out-rebounded Michigan 31-23.
Regardless of whether Michigan snaps its Big Ten championship drought Sunday, the Wolverines did everything in their power given the situation.
Additionally, Michigan capped off the program's best regular season in 18 years.
Banner or no banner, the Wolverines say they're feeling pretty good right about now.
"It's another step forward for this program," Michigan senior co-captain Stu Douglass said. "Our goals are slowly being accomplished.
"We're proud of what we've done, there's some games we'd like to have back, but we're building momentum."
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