MINNEAPOLIS — Thursday night’s matchup in Minneapolis between No. 7 Michigan (24-3, 13-3 Big Ten) and Minnesota (17-9, 7-9 B1G easily could’ve been a trap game for the Wolverines considering the stakes surrounding Michigan’s weekend matchup with rival Michigan State. The Wolverines did not overlook the Gophers or star forward Jordan Murphy (18 points, 15 rebounds,) they put forth a solid road effort and came away victorious in Minneapolis with a 69-58 win to keep pace in the Big Ten championship chase.
Michigan has been somewhat two-faced on the road this season, especially in Big Ten play. When the Wolverines get out to a hot start, they usually have been able to keep things rolling and get back on the plane with a victory. When Michigan has found itself starting sluggishly on the road, well, those three losses speak for themselves.
Through the opening three minutes, things were very back and forth between the Gophers and Wolverines, and it seemed another close road battle was unfolding.
Enter Jordan Poole.
Michigan’s sophomore came into the game 3 for his last 17 from beyond the arc but splashed a three-pointer to break the deadlock. Iggy Brazdeikis (10 points) made a triple of his own for Michigan’s next bucket, then Poole coasted in for a layup. A delicious dime from Charles Matthews (9 points, 9 rebounds) to Zavier Simpson (12 assists) for a third three extended the Michigan advantage to 17-6 on an 11-0 run over a span of 3:29. The rest of the half did slow down for both teams, as 17-6 turned into a halftime score of 28-18. Poole led all scorers at the break with 11 points, going 3-5 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 21 points, shooting 5-10 from downtown.
Perhaps the best example of how locked in Michigan’s offense was when it did find the hoop, came with a minute left in the first half. Jon Teske (17 points, 7 rebounds) deflected the ball to Matthews at Michigan’s own three-point line, Matthews led the fast break, flanked by Simpson and Isaiah Livers, Matthews fired up the court to Poole standing at the three-point line, Poole lobbed up an alley-oop pass for Matthews who couldn’t bring it down, quick rebound by Livers and outlet pass to Poole, who nailed the three-pointer to put Michigan up 28-16. The Wolverines led at the break 28-18.
That sequence was just a preview of the symphony of scoring that Michigan would put together to open the second half. Minnesota’s Amir Coffey scored the first points of the half with a second-chance layup under the basket to cut the deficit to 28-20, from there, Michigan went on a 12-2 run that saw Michigan shoot 5 for 6 in five trips down the floor. The Wolverines led 40-22 with 15:51 left in the game, but for all intents and purposes, it was out of reach for Minnesota and its offense that was clearly stuck in neutral. The Gophers never got closer than the eight they trailed by at the 18:58 mark despite a 7-0 run to draw to within 13 with eight minutes to play. Jon Teske attempted to put the Gophers away for good with back to back pick and pop three-pointers in a 44-second span to give Michigan a 64-47 advantage with 3:15 to go.
What will frustrate John Beilein and his assistants is that the Wolverines let their foot off the gas down the stretch, allowing that 17 point lead to be whittled down to 10 with one minute to play, and the Gophers wisely forcing Michigan to the free throw line to earn the win at Williams Arena.
As the final buzzer sounded, Michigan improved its road record to 5-3 in the conference and got itself back into a tie for first in the Big Ten with Michigan State at 13-3. The Wolverines will take the length of the flight back to Michigan (if that) to enjoy this win before turning their focus to the Spartans. Michigan has won three in a row against Michigan State dating back to 2017, but the stakes have not been this high in a regular season matchup between the teams since the 2014 season when Michigan last won the Big Ten championship.
Thursday’s win wasn’t perfect, but as the regular season draws closer to its conclusion, the Wolverines need to figure out ways to win, and that was exactly what they did despite a mildly ugly finish at The Barn. Jordan Poole seemed to rediscover his form, Jon Teske played like his usual self, Zavier Simpson dished out 12 assists and Charles Matthews chipped in nine points and nine rebounds. Thursday was a solid team effort by the Wolverines and one that they needed going into an emotionally charged weekend. If the offense can keep clicking how it has the past two games, the Wolverines can make a true statement Sunday against their arch rival.