ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Glenn Robinson III insisted that Thursday was just another game for him.
According to his coach, there’s no way to know if he’s telling the truth or not.
“Glenn would be a great poker player because you never know what is going on in his mind,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He always has the same demeanor, so I don’t know if today meant anything more to him or not. You can’t tell.”
Robinson was playing his first game against Purdue — the school where his father was one of the best players in Big Ten history. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in Michigan’s 68-53 victory.
“Everyone was trying to make this into a big deal and saying that I had something personal to prove to Purdue and coach (Matt) Painter,” Robinson said. “People were saying all kinds of things about how he didn’t recruit me and I was mad, but there’s none of that. This was just another game to me.”
As the son of a Boilermaker legend, Robinson acknowledged that there was a time where he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
“Early on, that was my dream, but I know I ended up in the right place,” he said. “I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I love it at Michigan. Everything about it.”
Robinson was very convincing after the game, but he did let his poker face slip for one moment during the game. Late in the first half, he threw down a ferocious dunk in traffic and then stared down the Purdue bench.
“I love plays like that,” Robinson said. “It was a great inbounds play, and the baseline opened up for me, so I was able to put it down. When I get a dunk like that, it fires me up, and it also fires up my teammates and the crowd. They were getting into it after that.”
The Wolverines had struggled for most of the first half, allowing Purdue to hit seven 3-pointers en route to a 33-32 lead at the intermission. Beilein challenged his team to play smarter basketball in the second half.
“We were trying to hit too many home runs in the first half, and that’s not how you win games in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “Every game gets tougher and tougher as we go through the conference schedule, and the only way you are going to keep winning is by hitting a lot of singles. There were games early in the season where we could swing for home runs, but now we’re to the point where we need singles.”
Beilein’s theory broke down at that point, because he was describing how the Wolverines needed to go for singles on defense rather than trying to hit home runs, but the point still worked. Far from having endless open looks like they had in the first half, the Boilermakers struggled at times in the second half to even make routine passes in the half-court offense.
“They made some adjustments and made things really tough on us,” said D.J. Byrd, who had 11 points in the game’s first 15 minutes, then never scored again. “We weren’t getting the open looks and then we had some breakdowns on defense. It’s tough if you do that against Michigan, because they have so many guys who can hit 3-pointers, and then they’ve got Trey Burke, who can do everything. They are tough to stop.”
Burke led Michigan with 15 points and eight assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 13 and Nik Stauskas added 12. But Beilein thought everything started with the increased defensive effort in the second half.
“It turns out that it is a lot of fun to play defense and rebound, because it gets you into the transition game,” Beilein said. “Our kids are still learning that, especially the freshmen, but we’re getting better at it every game. That’s important in this league.”
Now the Wolverines head to Illinois on Sunday, knowing that a win will almost certainly move them to No. 1 in next week’s Associated Press poll. They haven’t held the top spot since the days of the Fab Five, but Beilein isn’t even willing to discuss the possibility.
“We’re going to Illinois knowing that we have to play our best to beat a good team on the road,” he said. “That’s pretty much the case every time you play a game in this league, and it won’t change on Sunday.”
Beilein also knows that being ranked No. 1 in late January won’t mean anything when it comes to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. If anything, it will just put a bigger target on Michigan’s back.
But for the fans? The first No. 1 ranking in over 20 years would be something to savor.