From left, Michigan’s Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, and Nik Stauskas celebrate Thursday during their Big Ten tournament win against Penn State.
CHICAGO — The Michigan basketball team wished it was resting instead of playing. So, for the first six minutes of its 83-66 win against last-place Penn State in Thursday’s Big Ten tournament opener, coach John Beilein watched his players do just that.
Four days after a wrenching home loss to Indiana kept the Wolverines from a first-round bye, they emerged strangely disinterested. UM snared only two of the game’s first 13 rebounds, displayed a passing interest in defense, and — by the first media timeout — encountered a mostly neutral United Center crowd rallying behind the underdog.
“We could have pointed fingers,” Beilein said of the Wolverines’ early 14-3 deficit. “We could have lost our composure.”
Instead, Michigan stirred to life, then opened the throttle.
Whisking away the ghosts of a stunning February loss at Penn State (10-21) — one in a line of late-season defeats that cast into question Michigan’s championship ilk — the sixth-ranked but fifth-seeded Wolverines (26-6) answered the opening burst with a 16-2 run and sprinted away in the second half.
Michigan’s postseason revenge play continues today against fourth-seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers beat UM on a last-second overtime shot in the teams’ only previous meeting.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Beilein said. “We had a really disappointing loss on Sunday, and bouncing back is always a hard thing to do.”
Guard Trey Burke scored a game-high 21 points, and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Nik Stauskas added 15. But it was the Wolverines’ reserve big men who may have offered the greatest lift. Jon Horford had a season-high 11 points while Mitch McGary brought needed early energy.
“I knew we needed to pick up the intensity on the glass,” McGary said.
So he became a one-man eraser to Michigan’s deficit on the boards — the ailment that undermined the Wolverines against Indiana. In place of struggling starter Jordan Morgan, the 6-foot-10 freshman had 10 points and 10 rebounds — including four offensive — in 13 first-half minutes.
He was the biggest reason Michigan outrebounded Penn State 36-32 and, if you ask his teammates, maybe the only reason the Wolverines awakened.
“Once he comes off the bench and brings the crowd into it, that gives us a lot of energy,” Burke said of McGary, who matched a career-high with 11 rebounds. “Him being a freshman, that goes a long way and shows you he’s definitely a future captain of this team.”
That is, as long as Beilein can hold on to the agile 250-pounder from Chesterton, Ind. “If [football coach] Brady Hoke stays away from him,” the coach said with a smile, “he has the potential to do anything.”
Guard D.J. Newbill scored 20 points to lead Penn State, which had only seven active scholarship players.
ILLINOIS 51, MINNESOTA 49
CHICAGO — Brandon Paul scored 25 points and hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to lead Illinois.
Illinois (22-11) led by as much as 12 but was trailing by three when D.J. Richardson nailed a 3 with 47 seconds left to tie it at 49. That basket came after the Illini missed four shots on the possession.
The Gophers (20-12) had a chance to win it, but Austin Hollins stepped on the sideline after catching an inbounds pass with 14 seconds left. Paul then raced up the court and pulled up for the winner as time expired, sending the eighth-seeded Illini to the quarterfinals today against top-seeded and third-ranked Indiana.
NEBRASKA 57, PURDUE 55
CHICAGO — Shavon Shields scored 19 points, Brandon Ubel added 16 points and eight rebounds as Nebraska won.
The Cornhuskers (15-17) hung on after Purdue’s Terone Johnson missed two shots in the closing seconds and will meet No. 10 Ohio State in the quarterfinals today.
They started the second half on a 9-0 run to turn a two-point lead into a 39-28 advantage and withstood a late push by the Boilermakers (15-17) to come away with the victory.
Byrd led Purdue with 15 points and eight rebounds, but the seventh-seeded Boilermakers struggled on offense just when they appeared to be hitting their stride.