ANN ARBOR — Michigan might not have looked great in Sunday’s win over Penn State, but fans can take one huge positive out of the performance.
Glenn Robinson III is back.
After slumping badly in Michigan’s 1-3 stretch over the last two weeks, Robinson threw down five dunks, grabbed 10 rebounds and played tough defense in the Wolverines’ 79-71 victory. The win moves fourth-ranked Michigan to 9-4 in the Big Ten, while Penn State drops to 0-13.
“I knew I had to just keep going out there and playing hard, and I would get back into a rhythm,” Robinson said. “Today, Trey (Burke) and the guys found me for some easy shots — a lot of dunks — and that really got me going again.”
In Michigan’s last four games, Robinson had averaged just 6.5 points on 29 percent shooting. Sunday, he was a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor — including several alley-oops from Burke and Nik Stauskas — and hit nine of 11 free throws. That matched a career-high of 21 points and brought a lot of smiles to the Michigan locker room.
“Glenn’s offensive game is still evolving and developing to the point where we really have no idea where it is going to end up,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “There are times where you can tell that he’s searching for what he should be doing on that end of the floor, and that was something that teams were able to exploit in the last few games.
“Every team in this league plays Glenn a little differently, just like they play Trey a little differently. It’s a tough thing to have to adjust to the different defenses and figure out the best way to attack them. Today, he did that.”
Burke agreed with his coach, saying that he remembered having the same struggles last season.
“I had tough games as a freshman — games when I had a hard time figuring out what to do with the way teams were defending me,” he said. “I knew that’s what Glenn was trying to deal with, and I wanted to help him do that.”
That was almost certainly the best thing that Robinson had going for him against the Nittany Lions — his offensive game became the focus of the best point guard in college basketball. With the Wolverines able to get their fast break back in gear, Burke was watching for the times when Robinson got a step on his defender and broke hard for the basket.
When Burke saw that cut, he floated the ball toward the basket and Robinson did the rest.
“After I got him a couple alley-oops, I could see that he was getting his confidence back,” Burke said. “That’s huge because when Glenn is playing with confidence, he’s really hard to guard. Then he gets more involved in the offense, and that makes him even more dangerous.”
Burke also got Nik Stauskas out of another freshman slump, getting him the ball enough that the Canadian sharpshooter finished with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Stauskas missed his first three 3-point attempts, but made two of his last three and didn’t miss a two-point shot or a free throw.
“The problem with Nik is that he never thinks he’s going to miss a shot,” Beilein said. “When he misses one, he practically goes into cardiac arrest, and when he misses three in a row, you are talking him off a ledge.
“That’s when he loses some confidence, and it starts to affect him on defense. I told him that I was putting him back in the game and that he better keep shooting. That’s when he started knocking them down.”
Although Stauskas hadn’t been struggling as badly as Robinson, he acknowledged that he’s fighting against the freshman wall — the point where players are being asked to push a lot harder than they ever had in high school.
“Glenn and I weren’t playing our best in the last few games, and this is a tough part of the season for us,” Stauskas said. “We both knew we needed to get more involved tonight, and I think we did that job. It was good for both of us.”
Of course, nothing works at Michigan without Burke. While he was working his freshmen back into their scoring grooves, he was also putting up 29 points of his own. Burke also had five assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals — all without a turnover.
“Trey Burke is … well, almost impossible to stop,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “How does a point guard have 29 points and no turnovers, especially when he’s hitting circus shots from all over the place?
“You focus on him, and you come up with plans to keep him out of the paint, but there’s nothing that is really going to work. He’s just too talented.”
The Nittany Lions led for most of the first half and kept the game close until the final buzzer. Although most coaches dismiss the idea of moral victories, Chambers is happy to embrace them.
“When you are 0-13 in the Big Ten, you get excited by the little things,” he said. “We did some nice things, and we had kids step up and play their best games of the season. That team is just so talented that you know they are going to start hitting shots sooner or later.”
Beilein wasn’t going to be happy Sunday with anything other than a real victory.
“I didn’t care how it looked, but we really needed this win,” he said. “After what happened at Michigan State, coming off the loss in Wisconsin, we had to win this one. I didn’t care if it were by one point, two points or 33 points. I just wanted a win.”
Thanks to Burke and his freshmen, that’s just what he got.