Sunday, February 28

Michigan, No. 3 to return home after firing, faces Rutgers on the rise

The Michigan basketball team did not allow a break of more than three weeks to dissuade it from a major road win.

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

COVID-19 problems at the University of Michigan forced a long hiatus from Michigan’s stellar season. The Wolverines returned to action against Wisconsin, 21st in the world rankings, on Sunday and won 67-59.

“We kept it simple. Simple plays, limiting our mistakes, (taking care of) basketball. Yeah, it was a hiatus, 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 at halftime, we needed to change our defensive disposition.”

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

Freshman big man Hunter Dickinson seemed to benefit from the firing. He dominated on the inside, driving in 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. In his previous three games, Dickinson failed to reach double digits in scoring and did not grab more than six rebounds.

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

Michigan (14-1), which leads the Big Ten standings with a 9-1 conference record, has not played at home since defeating Maryland on January 19.

Rutgers (12-7, 8-7) have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning five of their last six games. The Scarlet Knights defeated Northwestern, 64-50, on Saturday with a stifling 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 good and they are a good offensive team. I loved the fact that we rebounded them and got contributions from everyone.

“Our bank gave us a lot of energy and everyone contributed here, which was important,” added Pikiell. “Every game in this league is a war and this one was no different.”

Rutgers will be looking for their first win 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 difficult and we are going to have to play some really good basketball.”

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

“You could say they are the number one team in the country,” Pikiell said. “One of our league coaches said this is a national championship caliber team.”

–Field level media

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