Michigan holds off Penn State 73-64 with clutch free throws
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) In order to get a better shooting percentage, Michigan coach John Beilein said, his Wolverines had to take better shots.
That philosophy worked Tuesday night at Penn State as Caris LeVert scored 18 points and Zak Irvin added 17 as the Wolverines shot down Penn State 73-64.
Michigan (9-6, 2-1 Big Ten), the defending Big Ten regular-season champion, has been solid from 3-point range (36 percent) most of the season but was in 12th place in the conference looking up in overall field goal shooting (41.9).
LeVert and Irvin changed that by going 6 of 8 and 6 of 9, respectively, each adding a pair of 3-pointers, as did Aubrey Dawkins. The Wolverines were 9 of 15 from 3-point range and 24 of 45 overall (53.3 percent).
''We challenged these guys today to compete,'' Beilein said. ''We thought we had to compete from everything to a loose ball to bringing energy to the game. We're a pretty good shooting team but we haven't been doing it in games. Some of that's self-inflicted.''
Derrick Walton Jr. added 12 points for the Wolverines. Michigan also had a 31-26 rebounding edge on Penn State as Irvin pulled down nine, and the Wolverines limited Penn State's frontcourt to 2 of 17 shooting.
''Coach B always tells me I can impact the game other than shooting the basketball,'' Irvin said about his game-high rebounding effort.''
It was the Big Ten home opener for Penn State, which fell to 0-3 in conference play and 12-4 overall. D.J. Newbill scored 20 points and John Johnson had 16 for the Lions, who were 22 of 53 from the field, an improvement from their morbid 29-percent shooting during a loss at Rutgers on Saturday.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers praised Michigan's LeVert, citing that he ''took over the game'' and ''that's what big-time players do.''
Chambers remained steadfast that he has a good team despite the Lions' winless conference start after racing out to a 12-1 non-conference record.
The Lions don't play again until Tuesday at Indiana; Chambers said he'd rather play sooner.
''I'd play tomorrow as soon as possible,'' he said. ''But we have a few days to let this simmer. We'll give them a day off and reboot and get back to work.
''It's a mindset. We have to believe we can make these shots and believe that we're good because we are a good basketball team in the Big Ten.''
Back-to-back dunks from Dawkins enabled Michigan to maintain a 10-point lead (51-41) at the 11:40 mark of the second half.
Penn State rallied with a 12-2 run that featured slams from Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson, and a Newbill 3-pointer and a nifty drive through the lane to tie the game at 53 at the 7:36 mark.
But three buckets from LeVert, each featuring slick dribbling skills against tight defense by Penn State's John Johnson, gave Michigan a 62-58 edge with 3:04 remaining.
''We got a lot easier shots than we did at Purdue (a 61-54 loss Saturday) and we did a lot better job with our shooting mechanics than we did against Purdue,'' LeVert said.
''We were very selective today, we all were,'' Beilein said. ''We scored 70 some points and we only took 15 3s, so that's good, too. We were struggling offensively.''
Michigan forced Newbill into two late-game turnovers and sank seven foul shots in the last 50 seconds to hold onto a safe lead down the stretch.
''They made plays, man, you have to give them credit,'' Penn State's Newbill said. ''They made shots, they got to the free throw line and they converted.''
Michigan: Michigan's 9.8 turnovers per game ranked the Wolverines seventh in the nation in that category, but they committed nine in the first half and 15 overall. . Michigan's John Beilein recorded his 710th career victory against 418 losses.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions' backcourt of Newbill (18:49) and Shep Garner (18:35) each had their third foul called on them early in the second half. . Penn State is 1-8 in its last nine games against Michigan and has lost 21 of the past 25 in the series that Michigan leads 31-12. . Penn State was 7-0 at home prior to Tuesday's loss.
Michigan is at home against Minnesota on Saturday.
Penn State has the weekend off and is at Indiana on Tuesday.