Wagner hits 3, runs over Tom Crean. pic.twitter.com/YdwT35WGlv
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) February 12, 2017
In one sense, this felt deeply unfamilar. Michigan entered today's game with zero road wins on the season and one victory in 17 tries at Assembly Hall since 1996, that an overtime win over a terrible 2008-09 Indiana squad. They never trailed the Hoosiers or even came particularly close to relinquishing their lead.
In another sense, this felt pleasantly familiar. Michigan turned up the defensive intensity, forced 15 turnovers—ten in the first half—and rode hot perimeter shooting and another tremendous game from Derrick Walton for a comfortable victory over the Hoosiers.
If this wasn't a must-win game, it was damn close to it, and Walton once again played with an intensity that matched the stakes. He scored 25 points, going 7-for-13 from the field and 9-for-9 from the line, while adding five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. It was a masaterful performance that had the CBS announcers full-on fawning over his play:
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 12, 2017
Much like in the first contest, Walton's main scoring support came from big men Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson. Wagner overcame a series of extremely questionable calls to post an 11-point, ten-rebound double-double while helping keep star IU center Thomas Bryant (8 points on 8 shots, 3 turnovers) in check. Wilson did a little bit of everything on both ends; he showed off an NBA-caliber array of shotmaking to net his 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and his NBA-caliber combination of size and coordination to tally three blocks and three steals.
Other than Zak Irvin (5 points, 1-for-8 FG), whose offensive woes continued, the supporting cast had another strong outing. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman needed only four shot equivalents for his seven points and once again made James Blackmon Jr. a relative non-factor; Blackmon scored only six points, three of which came on a meaningless garbage-time shot. Duncan Robinson hit a couple timely threes, playing his part in making sure IU paid dearly for their live-ball turnovers. Xavier Simpson followed his breakout MSU game by converting a strong take the hoop on his only shot attempt and chipping in two assists and a steal in 12 minutes.
The first road win of the season couldn't have come at a better time. Michigan is now 16-9, 6-6 in the Big Ten, and they'll be in the field in the next round of NCAA tournament projections; in many of them, they'll be taking Indiana's place. A 3-3 finish down the stretch, which features four road games and tough home contests against Wisconsin and Purdue, should have the Wolverines in position for an at-large bid. That looks a whole lot more realistic this afternoon than it did a week ago.