After a dismal first half, University of Michigan junior Zack Novak bounced back with a strong second half as the Wolverines rallied to defeat Penn State, 76-69, for its first Big Ten basketball conference win of the season Sunday at Crisler Arena.
“I guess I just found a rhythm,” said the forward. “I fed off my teammates.”
Michigan, 11-3, was coming off a loss in the league opener to Purdue and the Penn State game was a must one for the Wolverines, especially since the team goes on the road after eight straight home games and will face three straight ranked teams – Wisconsin, Kansas and Ohio State.
“Coach (John Beilein) told us this was the first real adversity we faced this season and we had to respond,” said Novak.
Michigan trailed, 36-31 at the half and was badly outrebounded. In the second half Michigan shot a blistering 61 percent from the field, hitting 14 of 23 shots and outscoring the visitors, 45-33.
“Considering the opponent it was probably our best half of the year,” said Beilein. “Either this one or the one we played against Clemson earlier.”
In the first half Novak had no points, no rebounds and two fouls. He spent much of the first half on the bench. In the second half, he had 15 points and four rebounds. He hit 2 of 3 from three-point-range, including a big one with 1:42 to play that lifted Michigan from a 65-64 lead to 68-64.
“That was the big one,” said Beilein.
“That shot buried us,” said Penn State’s Talor Battle, who scored a game-high 31 points, one less than his career high.
Michigan took the lead for good with 3:23 to play on a layup by Matt Vogrich.
Penn State scored eight straight points midway through the first half that turned into a 14-2 run.
Michigan held off Penn State in the final minutes thanks to its strong free throw shooting. The Wolverines were 14 of 14 from the stripe and Darius Morris was 7 of 7.
Morris, fourth in the nation assists, had another big night with a team-high 20 points and 10 assists.
Jeff Brooks had 16 points for Penn State and David Jackson added 15. Penn State is 8-5 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play.
“Like a lot of Big Ten game this came down to the last four minutes and we were stronger and able to hold them off,” said Beilein. “It was a good win for us.”
Michigan plays its first conference road game of the season on Wednesday at Wisconsin. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
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