speed in space go for launch
It was a big night for Minnesota: as a bubble team hosting a squad that has spent most of the season in the top five, they had an opportunity to get a win that might have came close to locking up an NCAA Tournament bid. Michigan’s defense dominated the Gophers in the first half — they barely got to over half a point per possession — and the Wolverines opened up a big lead in the second. Despite some sloppy play down the stretch and standout performances from Minnesota big men Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu (who scored 18 points each and recorded double-doubles), it was a comfortable win for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s three-point shooting had been poor in Big Ten play (32%, 9th in the league entering the game), but they shot 13-28 from deep tonight and actually shot a higher percentage on threes (46%) than twos (41%). Jordan Poole missed his first look from behind the arc, but got hot after Gabe Kalscheur doubled off of him and he knocked down a wide open look. Poole made five threes, scored a couple of pretty buckets, and finished with a game-high 22 points. Jon Teske missed a few early looks but hit three from long range, including on back-to-back possessions in the second half — he had 17 points. Michigan’s entire six man core made at least one three.
The game was even to start. Murphy was aggressive on the glass and had two put backs before the first TV timeout, and Michigan and Minnesota were tied. With Poole’s first three, Michigan embarked on a slow-motion 11-0 run, holding Minnesota scoreless for over five minutes. The Wolverines — namely Teske and Ignas Brazdeikis — held up against Minnesota’s big men, switching 4-5 screens and defending without help, for the most part. Oturu was the only Gopher to play well offensively in the first half: his put-back to just barely beat the buzzer got him to 10 points and 10 rebounds. Murphy eventually got going, but had more offensive rebounds (5) than points (4) before the break. Minnesota’s leading scorer, Amir Coffey, was held scoreless and missed ten shots; freshman sharpshooter Gabe Kalscheur didn’t score until after halftime either.
With a Zavier Simpson three to cap that run and prompt a Richard Pitino timeout, Michigan led 17-6 with just under 12 minutes left in the first half — and the Wolverines wouldn’t lead by less than eight points again in the game. There was a long stretch of ugly basketball that embodied most negative Big Ten stereotypes: the teams had a five and a half minute span with just two combined points towards the end of the half, and Michigan led 28-18 at halftime. It was a poor offensive half for Michigan, but they played fantastic defense and really made it tough for Minnesota to score. The Wolverines gave up 42 points in the second half, but many of those came after the outcome was decided and the Gophers still finished with just 0.90 points per possession.
Coffey opened the second half scoring with a layup after a strong drive past Iggy, but Iggy took over the game for a couple minutes right after that. He drove it at Murphy on the next possession for an and-one bucket (but missed the free throw), then knocked down a wing three from a Simpson-Teske pick-and-roll. Iggy blocked a Murphy shot in the post for the second time, which led to a Poole layup in transition. On the next possession, Iggy attacked an overly aggressive Murphy closeout in the corner, drove baseline, and scored over Oturu. A Teske three finished off a 12-2 run, and the Wolverines were up by 18. With ten minutes left in the game, Michigan had a commanding 53-33 lead.
Minnesota didn’t quit. Murphy, who went with the same move all game (facing up from the mid-post, driving, spinning left, and then shooting with his right hand), finally started drawing some contact and hitting those shots in the second half. A quick 7-0 run featuring Minnesota’s only made three of the game (which came with 8:24 left) and a Dupree McBrayer steal and dunk ate up a little bit of that lead and forced a timeout. A side ball screen and alley-oop layup from Simpson to Teske out of that timeout quieted the crowd. An impressive sequence from Charles Matthews — stopping Coffey at the rim in transition and knocking down a corner three — pushed the lead back to fifteen, and the consecutive Teske threes were daggers that effectively sealed the game.
The Gophers extended it, fouling often despite the score; they were rewarded with a couple of missed free throws by Poole and a couple of Michigan fouls on three-point attempts. It would have required a miraculous comeback though, and Minnesota didn't come close. The home crowd cheered a meaningless Brock Stull jumper shortly before the clock expired, and the 9-point margin of victory understates the comprehensiveness of Michigan’s win. So do the stat lines from Murphy and Oturu: both played well but didn’t score efficiently (Michigan eventually left Oturu wide open in Minnesota’s high-low looks and he kept bricking jumpers) and the Wolverines were content to try to let those two beat them with difficult two-pointers. Coffey had a nightmare game (six points on 18 shot equivalents) mostly thanks to the efforts of Matthews.
Minnesota played Michigan close in Ann Arbor — it was the Wolverines’ worst three-point shooting performance of the season, but they still won. Tonight, in a game that meant a lot to the Gophers and to their NCAA Tournament chances, the Gophers were ice cold from outside (their only good shooter was held to three attempts), Michigan was hot, and it was a blowout. A potential letdown ahead of a highly-anticipated matchup with Michigan State on Sunday was averted, and Michigan kept pace with the other co-leaders in the conference title race.
[Box score after the JUMP]