No.3 Michigan back home after layoff, faces surging Rutgers

NCAA Basketball

Michigan’s basketball team didn’t allow a layoff of more than three weeks to deter it from a big road victory.

The No. 3 Wolverines will now play their first home game in nearly a month when Rutgers visits Ann Arbor, Mich., on Thursday.

COVID-19 issues at the University of Michigan forced a long pause in Michigan’s stellar season. The Wolverines returned to action against 21st-ranked Wisconsin on Sunday and won 67-59.

“We kept it simple. Simple plays, limiting our mistakes, (taking care of) the basketball. Yes, it was a pause, we couldn’t do anything about it,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “We had to control the controllable, and that’s us. And I’m impressed with how our guys responded after the (pause). … It says a lot about the character of this group.”

Michigan started slowly but outscored the Badgers 40-20 after halftime.

“Our team was down by 12, so we got punched in the mouth first,” Howard said. “In the second half, as we talked about at halftime, we needed to change our defensive disposition.”

Forward Isaiah Livers picked up where he left off, scoring a team-high 20 points. He’s reached the 20-point mark in three consecutive games and has made 11 of his last 18 3-point attempts.

Freshman big man Hunter Dickinson seemed to benefit from the layoff. He dominated inside, powering for 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. In his previous three games, Dickinson failed to reach double digits in scoring and didn’t grab more than six rebounds.

“He’s growing and getting better and better, game-by-game,” Howard said. “He was extremely effective on the glass, offensively and defensively. To be able to get us second-chance opportunities was huge.”

Michigan (14-1), which sits atop the Big Ten standings with a 9-1 conference record, hasn’t played at home since defeating Maryland on Jan. 19.

Rutgers (12-7, 8-7) has been one of the hotter teams in the league, winning five of its last six games. The Scarlet Knights defeated Northwestern, 64-50, on Saturday with suffocating defense. They limited the Wildcats to 32.7 percent shooting and controlled the boards, 43-31.

“We were locked in,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “It was a really good basketball game. Our defense was really, really good and they’re a good offensive team. I loved the fact that we out-rebounded them and we got contributions from everybody.

“Our bench gave us great energy and everyone chipped in here, which was important,” Pikiell added. “Every game in this league is a war and this one was no different.”

Rutgers will seek its first victory over the Wolverines. Michigan holds a 13-0 lead in the all-time series.

“Another thing we’ve never done,” Pikiell said. “It would be great for our guys but the task is hard and we’re going to have to play really good basketball.”

A win over a Top 10 team would do wonders for the team’s NCAA Tournament resume.

“They’re arguably the No. 1 team in the country,” Pikiell said. “One of the coaches in our league said this is a national championship-caliber team.”

–Field Level Media

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