Michigan finally found the secret to handling hapless Penn State.
Unleash Mitch McGary.
McGary had a first-half double-double to salvage another hideous start for Michigan, and the fifth-seeded Wolverines pulled away late for a 83-66 win over the 12th-seeded Nittany Lions in Big Ten tournament play.
McGary reminds fans of a puppy at times, sprinting around the floor at top speed and knocking things over with his clumsy enthusiasm. That side of his game was on display Thursday in Chicago — he managed to miss an uncontested fast-break dunk — but he mostly kept himself under control.
That was exactly what Michigan needed. After struggling in their two regular-season matchups with the Nittany Lions, including a humiliating loss at Happy Valley, the Wolverines found themselves down 14-3 in the rubber match.
Jordan Morgan, looking like he hadn’t recovered from missing the title-winning tip at the end of Sunday’s loss to Indiana, was missing badly at the rim and John Beilein didn’t wait to pull the trigger. McGary came into the game and immediately took over at both ends of the floor — grabbing rebounds and making every shot other than the botched dunk.
Michigan quickly got back into the game, led at the half, and then pulled away in the second half. McGary didn’t do much after the intermission, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but the impact had already been made.
“Mitch was huge for us,” John Beilein said on the postgame show. “He gave us energy in the first half when we really needed it.”
At the Crisler Center, McGary can fire up the fans and his teammates with his trademark upraised arms, but in Chicago, he had to do it on the floor.
“I knew we needed to pick up the intensity on the offensive and defensive glass,” he said. “I just wanted to provide a spark.”
He did, and when he faltered in the second half, Jon Horford added 11 points in 10 minutes.
“Everything that Mitch did in the first half, Jon did in the second,” Beilein said. “Jordan is still the heart of our defense, but Mitch and Jon have been giving us a lift on offense and on the glass. We need that right now.”
Most importantly, McGary and Horford’s 21 points helped Michigan build a big enough margin that Beilein could finish this game with his little-used seniors on the floor. It didn’t mean a lot of rest for Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas, but with a possibility of three more games in three days, every minute will help.