Michigan, without Isaiah Livers, hands Rutgers its first home loss
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers was undefeated at home this season. That changed on Wednesday, as Michigan went to the RAC without a key player and left with a gritty, 60-52 victory.
Zavier Simpson had 16 points, six rebounds, and five assists for the Wolverines, who made some critical shots late for their fourth straight win.
Michigan has now won six of its last seven to move into sole possession of eighth place in the Big Ten, one ahead of Ohio State in the win column. The Wolverines improved to 13-0 all-time against Rutgers.
Rutgers was previously 17-0 at the Rutgers Athletic Center. That Michigan won without starting forward Isaiah Livers was all the more impressive.
Livers missed nine games earlier in the season with two separate groin/hip injuries. He returned on Feb. 8 and started Michigan's last three games, but did momentarily leave Sunday's game against Indiana after appearing to roll his ankle.
He was wearing a boot on his right foot on Wednesday and a team spokesperson confirmed it was an ankle injury. Livers missed a game his freshman season because of a sprained left ankle and injured an ankle the summer before last season. No word yet on his availability for Saturday's game at Purdue.
Brandon Johns Jr. started in his place at power forward and battled foul trouble through 18 uneven minutes. Colin Castleton (five points, four rebounds) provided 10 solid second-half minutes off the bench at that spot. Franz Wagner had 12 points.
Michigan started 3-of-8 from deep before missing nine a row. But DeJulius, Wagner, and Eli Brooks each made a critical 3 down the stretch. Michigan finished 6-of-23 (26 percent) from downtown.
Rutgers grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, a strong showing but not enough. It was a similar story in Michigan's 69-63 victory over Rutgers at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1.
The Scarlet Knights, led by Geo Baker's 16 points, fell to 18-9 (9-7). They shot just 3-of-18 from 3-point range.
Rutgers scored the last five points of the first half and the first six in the second half to grab a 37-28 lead. Michigan chipped away.
Castleton had a strong and-one to end the run. His free throws after an aggressive offensive rebound pulled Michigan within one. So too did Simpson's running hook off the glass -- never mind the improbable angle -- as the shot clock expired.
With the basket, Simpson became the fourth Wolverine in the 1,000-point/500-assist club.
On consecutive possessions midway through the half, DeJulius made a floater in the lane and swished a corner 3, snapping the Wolverines' long-distance drought and giving them a 45-41 edge. Wagner finally hit one, with 6:16 left, and Michigan went up six. A minute later, Simpson was benched after picking up his fourth foul, just before DeJulius' free throws made it 52-44.
Out of the final media timeout, Michigan's possession was going nowhere before Brooks canned a deep 3, his first long-range connection of the night. Michigan forced misses and cleaned up the glass in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
The shooting numbers weren't pretty, though Michigan started hot.
Rutgers sagged off Simpson on screens and he canned two early 3s. Wagner jumped a pass and took it in for a layup. Austin Davis bullied a defender for a basket and Michigan led 16-8. But the Wolverines were sloppy too, and Juwan Howard called timeout at the 12:15 mark after a third pass was intercepted.
A 10-2 Scarlet Knights run put them ahead 22-21 with 7:05 left, energizing the arena known as the RAC. Jon Teske quieted things with his first 3 since the last matchup with Rutgers.
Simpson strolled into the lane, casually it seemed, for another bucket, giving him 12 points and Michigan a two-point edge with a minute left. Geo Baker's deep 3 at the buzzer gave him a dozen as well and made it 31-28 Rutgers. Michigan was just 3-of-13 from deep in the first half.
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