The Michigan Wolverines (23-4, 10-4) once again turned in a subpar first half of basketball Sunday against Illinois (20-9, 7-8) as they were down 31-28 at halftime.
After the half, it was all Michigan.
Sophomore guard Trey Burke threw the Wolverines over his shoulder and carried them to an (eventually) impressive 71-58 victory. Burke chipped in 26 points with eight assists.
Tim Hardaway Jr. took a solid shot to the face halfway through the second half, and it seemed to spark the Wolverines as they went on a 15-2 run to pull away.
Michigan remains undefeated at home on the season, and will look to keep its record unblemished when the rival Michigan State Spartans (22-6, 11-4) come to the Crisler Center on Sunday, March 3.
Not so fast.
If Michigan once again overlooks Penn State (8-18, 0-14) Wednesday, February 28 at the Bryce Jordan Center, they could find themselves completely out of the B1G title picture and the loss would be a huge blow to their hopes of obtaining a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn State is still yet to win a conference game and has not tasted victory since a December 29, 2012 84-74 victory against the Duquesne Dukes of the Atlantic 10.
One short week ago, Michigan held on to defeat Penn St. 79-71 in a closely contested game. Burke was once again the hero for Michigan as he dropped a season-high 29 points against the Nittany Lions.
In the first contest, Penn St. relied heavily on its starting lineup as Brandon Taylor was the only player off of the bench who saw more than 10 minutes of playing time.
For Michigan to silence the doubters heading into Sunday's game with Michigan State they will need to pounce on Penn St. early and often.
When you let hungry, desperate teams hang around, that's when you put yourself at risk of being upset, no matter the differences in talent.
Michigan has been growing consistently worse in the first 20 minutes of basketball this season. In each of their four losses they have started out horrific.
Penn St. has proven that they can hang with teams this season. They've hung with Michigan St., Illinois and the Wolverines already this season. They are going to do everything in their power to not finish conference play without a single win.
One major difference is that Michigan is returning to health as of late.
With Jordan Morgan looking better every game back since spraining his ankle, Michigan is feeling more confident on defense and is starting to look like the team that was No. 1 just a short time ago.
Burke gets his numbers but Morgan is one of those players that makes his contributions in facets that don't show up in the box score.
Against Illinois, Morgan only had one point with six rebounds, but Michigan outscored Illinois 45-20 when the junior was on the floor.
Morgan was forced to sit and watch for the majority of their brutal road trip that saw them go 0-3 against Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan St.
In the first showdown with Michigan St. Morgan was only on the floor for nine minutes, as he was held helpless as his team was swept off the floor 75-52.
As much help as Morgan has been for Michigan it will still need stellar play from stars Burke and Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway Jr. had one of the worst games of his career against Michigan St. the first time around, shooting a horrific 1-11 from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arc.
Michigan will need their second leading scorer to do a lot better than that if they want to win consecutive B1G championships. It's going to be an uphill battle as Michigan will have to win its remaining games and Indiana to lose one game before they get another shot at the Hoosiers on Sunday, March 10.
As I stated in the headline, it's got to be one game at a time. No matter how big the next game is.
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