Michigan shot 59 percent from the field, including 70 percent in the first half to overcome a valiant effort from Big Ten bottom dweller Penn State in a 70-66 victory. Trey Burke led the Wolverines with 19 points, but perhaps the most encouraging stat from Sunday’s victory was the scoring total of sophomore big man Evan Smotrycz. Smotrycz shot 6-7 from the field to finish with 17 points, his most in conference play this season.
The win won’t do much for Michigan’s already-impressive NCAA Tournament resume, but it did keep the Wolverines in play for a possible share of the conference title. John Beilein’s squad would learn of its fate later in the day, when Ohio State faced Michigan State on the road in a battle for Big Ten supremacy.
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Oddly enough, Michigan was pulling for the hated Buckeyes, who–with a win in East Lansing–would give the Wolverines a share of the conference title. They did just that, edging Sparty by two, and, in the process, gave the Maize and Blue its first Big Ten title since 1985-1986.
Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all share the title, but–by virtue of tiebreaker–the Wolverines get the 2-seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament, and will play the winner of the matchup between 7-seed Minnesota and 10-seed Northwestern.
The day’s results probably means more for Michigan State–who likely played their way out of a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament with the loss–than Michigan–who’s resume was neither hurt nor helped with a road win over the Nittany Lions.
Of course, winning on the road in this conference–even if it is the lowly Nittany Lions–is significant, especially for a team that has struggled away from home for much of the year. But another lights-out shooting performance was just what the doctor ordered: Michigan now enters postseason play having scored 71 or more points in its last three games. Which means that momentum is at an all-time high, and at just the right time.
If they continue this torrid pace throughout their run in Indianapolis next week, the Wolverines might well be on their way to giving their regular season championship trophy a partner in the showroom.
Chris Johnson is a sports writer for The Daily Northwestern. He is also the Michigan beat writer for bigtenorbust.com and a writer for WildcatReport.com (Northwestern Rivals). Follow him @chrisdjohnsonn. contact: firstname.lastname@example.orgPowered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks