Five seconds into Tuesday night’s game between No. 6 Michigan and Penn State, Nittany Lions guard Jamari Wheeler set the tone for an entire half by grabbing the opening tip and sprinting up the court for a layup and a quick Penn State lead. The first half ended with John Beilein being called for two consecutive technical fouls and being ejected for the first time in his twelve seasons as Michigan’s head coach, and the first time since 1979. The Nittany Lions opened the second half with a 16 point lead, and despite an inspired second-half effort, Michigan could not muster enough to come back, Penn State (9-15, 2-11) upset Michigan (22-3, 11-3) 75-69 in the Nittany Lions first win over the Wolverines since 2013.
“You lose to a top 100 team on the road it’s not the end of the world, their press slowed regulus down, their switching of every ball screen something they had not done in a long, long time,” Beilein told reporters after the loss. “Give them credit, they were absolutely terrific today. It’s great for Penn State, it’s great for our league to have a team that is the bottom of the league, beat a team that is going for the championship. It’s great parity.”
After the quick opening basket by Wheeler, Penn State leaned heavily on senior Lamar Stevens (26 points, 12 rebounds) who was playing center in PSU’s small-ball lineup, and freshman guard Myles Dread (17 points.) The two combined for 25 of Penn State’s 40 first-half points. Stevens perpetually frustrated Michigan center Jon Teske (5 points, 5 rebounds) in their matchup with some sharp cuts to the hoop and his ability to crash the offensive glass. Penn State outrebounded Michigan in the offensive end 7-2, combined with six first-half turnovers for the Wolverines; it was easy to see why Penn State went to the locker room with such an enormous advantage.
For Michigan, Zavier Simpson had one of his worst performances of the season. The junior point guard opened the night 0 for 4 from three-point range and closed it by committing six of Michigan’s 12 turnovers in the game. The Nittany Lions reaped the benefits of Wolverine turnovers. Michigan turned the ball over four times during a five-minute stretch in the first half, and Penn State grabbed a 29-20 lead with five minutes until halftime. Charles Matthews (24 points) was Michigan’s only offensive spark in the first half. Ignas Brazdeikis had six points on 3-3 shooting but had to sit down when called for his second foul. Brazdeikis was held scoreless in the second half after recording a third foul.
As the seconds ticked down to halftime, Penn State guard Rasir Bolton threw up a floater that tickled the twine as time expired, but John Beilein was outraged at a screen by Wheeler that knocked Zavier Simpson off his feet and to the ground. Beilein received one technical for animatedly speaking to the officials, then received his second as assistant coach Saddi Washington tried to restrain Beilein and take him to the locker room. It was Beilein’s first ejection since he was the head coach at Erie Community College in 1979. Penn State carried a 13 point lead to the locker room and made three out of four free throws to open the second half. Penn State led 43-27 with twenty minutes to play.
“I haven’t been thrown out of a game since I think ’79, about twenty years before most of you were born,” Beilein said after the loss. “You know me, I very rarely get technical, so I will deal with the league office going forward and see what I can do differently.”
After Penn State made those free throws and the second half clock started to run, things began to happen, and happen quickly.
Michigan trailed 50-35 with 16:40 left to play in the game. The Wolverines went on a 12-2 run that closed the gap from 15 to five and did so playing the team basketball that Beilein preaches. Four different Wolverines scored on that run, Michigan clawed its way back using a triple from Isaiah Livers, free throws from Livers and Simpson, a layup by Teske, and a midrange jumper from Matthews. The Wolverines trailed 52-47 and were well within striking distance before the offense slowed to a halt.
“Second half that was pretty darn good, I mean I think after the technicals we were down 16, and all of a sudden it’s four? I am really pleased with that,” Beilein said of the fast stretch for Michigan. “Just wish we could’ve made a couple more plays, I thought we left some on the table.”
From 9:59 to 4:55, for an entire 5:04, Michigan did not make a field goal. Of all times for the offense to sputter out, at last in the conference Penn State trying to climb out of a seemingly impossible hole is less than stellar. Penn State built its lead back to 9 thanks to some clutch baskets by Miles Dread and Mike Watkins, along with some stellar play at both ends by Stevens. Charles Matthews finally ended the drought with a three-pointer with 4:55 remaining. Lamar Stevens countered with a jumper of his own to put Penn State up by 8, and for the most part, it was over for Michigan. A pair of late three-pointers from Jordan Poole (14 points) and Simpson forced Penn State to make some free throws late, but the Nittany Lions avoided collapse.
Penn State finished the game outrebounding Michigan 12-4 on the offensive glass and 13-4 in fastbreak points. Michigan getting bullied on the offensive glass may have been the most symbolic stat from the first place team in the Big Ten falling to the last place team in the Big Ten.
“Teams are gonna lose, you gotta learn from it,” Beilein said as he threw his hands up in the air at his press conference. “If there are things from this game that help us beat Maryland Saturday, I’m all in. That is the way you gotta look at it.”
The last time Penn State upset a Top 10 Michigan team, it was February 2013, a 0-14 Nittany Lions team upset then No. 4 Michigan, which featured five future NBA players on its roster. The Wolverines used that loss as motivation to go 8-2 down the stretch and make it all the way to the national championship game. When you combine a flat first half, Beilein’s ejection, Penn State’s dominance on the offensive glass, and a date with a very talented Maryland team on Saturday, the Wolverines will return to the drawing board in Ann Arbor on Wednesday with the sting of this loss still fresh. If it’s one thing Michigan has been good at, it’s rebounding with a bounce-back win after a loss. The Wolverines will try to do that for the 14th time since February 2017 on Saturday when they face Maryland.