John Beilein got ejected at halftime, drawing technicals for complaining about a missed offensive foul call on Penn State, and the Nittany Lions effectively had a 16-point lead to start the second half after the ensuing free throws. Penn State managed to stave off a Michigan comeback; the last-place team in the Big Ten beat the first-place team. Lamar Stevens shouldered a heavy burden for PSU and had an impressive game: 26 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and three blocks. Myles Dread chipped in five threes for the Nittany Lions, and Charles Matthews was the bright spot for Michigan.
Penn State was the better team on both ends in the first half. The game was tied at seven before a Dread three pointer immediately following a Zavier Simpson turnover keyed a 10-2 Nittany Lion run. PSU didn’t trail for the rest of the game. Early, Penn State conceded open threes to Simpson and he obliged — but missed all four attempts in the first eight minutes of the game. As Penn State extended its lead over the latter part of the half, Stevens won a head-to-head matchup on the offensive end against Jon Teske as Penn State played its best player — who’s really more of a physical combo forward — at the five and isolated him from the perimeter against Teske.
Meanwhile, Penn State’s defense, which featured switching on nearly every screen, really bothered Michigan. The Wolverines were held to 0.81 points per possession in the first half, and while the scoring eventually ramped up (especially during the free throw parade at the end of the game), the Nittany Lions defended well through the entire shot clock and forced the Wolverines into difficult shots throughout the game. Between a few uncharacteristic open floor turnovers that led to open looks and some offensive rebounds from Penn State (which included a few caught airballs), Michigan was at a substantial shot margin disadvantage at halftime. As the half spiraled out of control, Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis were on the bench with foul trouble.
Jordan Poole tried to go 2-for-1 at the end of the half, and was blocked — the possession eventually ended in a missed Simpson layup. That gave Penn State the last shot: Jamari Wheeler set a strong screen — one that should have been called a foul — on Simpson, and Rasir Bolton snuck in a finger roll before the buzzer. Beilein confronted a ref after the teams started heading to the locker rooms, was given a technical, and was given a second technical as he continued to argue while retreating. Saddi Washington stepped in as the acting head coach following the ejection. It was the same role he had in the pre-season trip to Spain with a recovering Beilein still back home.
Bolton hit three of the four technical free throws to push the score to 43-27. From there, Michigan battled to get back in the game, but was unable to get the deficit down to a single possession. Iggy committed a senseless foul on Josh Reaves as Reaves attempted a three-pointer and sat for much of the second half with three fouls. Michigan’s leading scorer finished with just six points in 17 minutes. Matthews played well in the first half and really shined in the second: he was the lone Wolverine who showed consistent aggressiveness when confronted with the physical Penn State defense and was the driving force behind Michigan’s comeback effort. He finished with an efficient 24 points.
Michigan held Penn State to five points over a nine minute stretch in the second half, and Matthews trimmed the Nittany Lion lead to 55-51 — by splitting two sets of free throws — with over eight minutes remaining. On the next possession, Stevens isolated from the right side of the floor, found Dread in the opposite corner, and the freshman knocked down the three over a Simpson contest. Jordan Poole (who shot 1-8 from behind the arc) missed a rebuttal, and the miss turned into a transition opportunity for Penn State — Mike Watkins followed a Stevens miss and the lead was back to nine. Michigan’s offense also went cold, as they only scored five points over a seven minute stretch.
The Wolverines broke out their trapping press after the under-four timeout and caused some havoc, but they were unable to create enough turnovers to come all the way back. Matthews kept attacking and scoring, but eventually fouled out with one of Michigan’s many intentional fouls. Penn State couldn’t make all of their free throws — they wound up missing 13 total over the course of the game — and they still managed to win. A step-back Simpson three cut the lead to four with 30 seconds left, but Stevens knocked down both free throws on the next possession, then Simpson turned it over taking the ball up the court.
Much like Michigan State’s loss to Illinois last week, Michigan was ambushed on the road by a team with a deceptively bad record. Despite everything, Penn State still plays hard, they're considered to be a fairly decent team by the computers, and they earned a huge win in what’s been a pretty miserable season, one filled with close losses. The optics are certainly bad, and ultimately Michigan can’t afford to play as poorly as they did in the first half and still win on the road against anyone in the Big Ten. Had a couple plays unfolded differently — or had Beilein not been ejected (and Penn State given three points) — Michigan may have been able to come back, but in the end, they probably deserved to lose.
Michigan’s now tied atop the Big Ten with Michigan State, with Purdue a half game behind. The Wolverines welcome Maryland to Ann Arbor this weekend to start what will be a brutal six-game stretch to end the regular season.
[Box score after the JUMP]