BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Juwan Howard understands the power of patience. It should serve No. 3 Michigan well this week.
Thirty seasons after first arriving in Ann Arbor as part of the famed Fab Five, the second-year coach watched Franz Wagner match his season high with 21 points and Isaiah Livers finish with 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Wolverines pulled away or a 73-57 victory at Indiana – and to the precipice of Howard’s first Big Ten crown.
“There’s a reason I think Michigan is championship good,” Hoosiers coach Archie Miller said. “To me, they’re really complete and they have a great opportunity to go as far as anyone in the country.”
If conference officials award the league crown based on winning percentage as others intend to do, Saturday’s victory would have locked it up. But there has been no formal announcement from Big Ten officials and there was no response to emails seeking clarification from The Associated Press.
But if Michigan keeps playing this well, it could be just a formality.
The Wolverines have won seven straight and are 5-0 since resuming play following a COVID-19 pause. They’ve also won eight straight over Indiana, three in Bloomington, and it didn’t take Michigan long to break this one open.
Mike Smith started the decisive 10-0 spurt with a 3-pointer midway through the first half and capped it by making two free throws for a 32-21 lead. After the Hoosiers answered with five straight to cut the deficit to six, Michigan went on a 10-3 run for a 42-29 lead.
“Today’s emphasis was energy,” Howard said. “We knew we weren’t going to walk in here and just get a win. I knew Indiana would be prepared and they would come out with great energy. But we emphasized that we had to be ready from the jump ball and they were ready from the jump ball.”
Livers opened the second half with three straight 3s to expand the margin and the Wolverines sealed the victory with an 8-0 spurt that made it 59-42 with 11:23 to play. Now they’ll wait to see if that’s enough to capture their first conference regular-season title since 2014.
Aljami Durham led Indiana (12-12, 7-10) with 15 points while Race Thompson added 11 points and six rebounds. Indiana has lost three straight and four of its last five as they fight for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Michigan: Sure, the Wolverines can score. But they can defend, too. Michigan made Indiana uncomfortable against full-court pressure, stayed in front of the Hoosiers in half-court defense, and challenged shot after shot. It’s no wonder the Wolverines seem destined for a No. 1 seed.
Indiana: The Hoosiers trailed 22-21 with 8:36 left in the first half – and then let another one get away. Indiana has shown promise with a sweep of Iowa and overtime losses to three ranked foes: Wisconsin, Florida State and Illinois. But as the season winds down, Miller’s squad needs to finish strong.
Michigan: Smith had 14 points. … Livers made four 3s and moved within 38 points of reaching 1,000 in his career. … Hunter Dickinson had 13 points and seven rebounds after earning his school-record tying seventh Big Ten freshman of the week honor on Monday. … The six seniors won their 100th career game, joining a club only 10 other players in school history achieved.
Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis had 10 points and six rebounds. … Durham became the 53rd member of Indiana’s 1,000-point club. He now has 1,010. … Durham and Cooper Bybee received framed jerseys during a pregame ceremony to honor what could be their final home game. Their speeches will be recorded and posted online next week.
The Hoosiers played without guard Armaan Franklin, their second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter. Franklin, a sophomore, injured his right foot in the first half Wednesday against Rutgers. Miller said he doesn’t expect Franklin to return this week. Jerome Hunter started in place of Franklin and had five points and six rebounds.
Michigan: hosts No. 5 Illinois in Tuesday’s big showdown, the first of three games next week.
Indiana: hopes to earn a split in the season series Tuesday at Michigan State.