The Michigan men’s basketball team cruised to a 91-60 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night to advance to the Legends Classic finals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
The Wolverines were led by Jett Howardwho scored 17 points in as many minutes before fouling out. Hunter Dickinson had 11 points in 25 minutes, sitting most of the second half after taking an elbow to the nose. Joey Baker came off the bench and poured in 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including 4-for-5 from deep, while Dug McDaniel had eight points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals. Kobe Bufkin set a career-high with 14 points of his own, complementing that with four assists.
After falling behind, 8-2, after the first three minutes, UM found a better rhythm on offense, and Pitt’s shooting cooled. The Wolverines built a moderate lead by the end of the first half and blew the game open early in the second, dominating the paint (38-18) and from deep (7-for-9 in the second half).
The Wolverines knocked down eight shots in a row midway through the first half to build a modest lead. Three of those came from Jett Howard, and many of the looks came at the rim. A pump fake, drive and dish from Joey Baker to Tarris Reed Jr. highlighted Michigan’s ability to get into the paint. After it had trailed early, UM led, 28-23, at the under-eight timeout.
Baker used the same pump fake to get to the bucket again after the media timeout, this time finishing himself with a layup through contact. Dickinson had a one-handed tip-in, found Baker for a 3-pointer, and suddenly UM had built up its lead to seven.
And when Pitt’s Blake Hinson drew a technical foul for flopping, UM sank the free throw and then Jaelin Llewellyn hit a pull-up to go up by double-digits for the first time, 38-28.
The Wolverines ended the first half up six, 38-32, behind 11 from Jett Howard and eight from Dickinson. A 2-for-11 mark from deep, many on open looks, was the biggest blemish on an otherwise impressive offensive showing in the first half.
The 3-pointers started to fall after the break. The second-half scoring began for UM with a four-point play from Jett Howard. On the next possession, Howard knocked down another 3-pointer from the same spot on the court. Then Terrance Williams II made one of his own. (Sandwiched between those plays was Jett Howard picking up his fourth personal crowd.)
Finishes at the bucket by Williams II and Llewellyn, followed by a smooth Llewellyn elbow jumper, extended U-M’s lead to 13 points at the under-16 timeout of the second half.
Kobe Bufkin’s drive and finish through a foul put the Wolverines up 15, and on the ensuing possession the guard found Dickinson inside with a no-look pass for an old-fashioned three-point play. Pitt called timeout, suddenly down 18.
Joey Baker hit another 3-pointer following that break, and when Dug McDaniel hit a sprinting floater off the glass, the lead was 23. Then the freshman guard poked away a pass and delivered a bounce pass to Bufkin to make it 25, forcing another timeout.
From there, the result was hardly in question, but UM still electrified. McDaniel delivered a no-look pass for Baker for a corner trey, then cut to the basket for a finish at the rim. It represented an encouraging finish for a team seeking reliable scorers beyond Dickinson and Jett Howard.
Bufkin finished with a career-high 14 points and added four assists, McDaniel looked comfortable running point, Baker buried four 3-pointers, and Youssef Khayat earned his first minutes. It was as encouraging an effort as UM could have hoped against a high-major foe.
Michigan beats Pitt: What it means
John Hugley IV made season debut for Pitt, creating an intriguing matchup of two traditional bigs. Dickinson made his mark with an assertive block on the Panthers center in the opening minutes. When Hugley was on the bench, Dickinson feasted inside. Though his night was cut short by the lopsided score and the knock to his nose, Dickinson again proved himself as an elite scorer, solid defender and plus passer from the post.
In the first half, Pitt went under ball screens, leaving UM with open looks at the perimeter. Dickinson also created open looks by drawing double teams in the high post. In that context, a 2-for-11 mark from deep in the first half was concerning. But the second-half showing — 7-for-9 — was significantly more encouraging. Five different players made a triple.
On that note: Also encouraging was Joey Baker, who expanded his offensive arsenal by using pump-fakes to drive to the paint. The Duke transfer buried 4-of-5 treys, including all three in the second half. His offensive showing was particularly impressive given Jett Howard’s foul trouble.
Through three games, free-throw shooting isn’t a strength. It was a concern against Eastern Michigan, and UM again shot under 70% on Wednesday.
Perhaps most impressive of all: Michigan had just two turnovers through the first 36 minutes of game time. Llewellyn and McDaniel didn’t waste possessions, and that helped UM steadily build its lead. Both point guards looked comfortable, and McDaniel in particular stood out with his confident second half.
Michigan basketball: What comes next
The Wolverines will face the winner of Arizona State and VCU on Thursday in Brooklyn for the championship game. Either opponent presents an intriguing matchup against former UM players. The Rams start Brandon Johns Jr. and bring Zeb Jackson off the bench; the Sun Devils are led by Frankie Collins.
UM will play at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.
Story photo by Marc-Grégor Campredon / MGoBlog.com