ANN ARBOR – While a brutal Big Ten schedule appears to have caught up to Michigan, coach John Beilein’s team should have a considerably easier time against last-place Penn State.
Looking to stay unbeaten at home, the No. 4 Wolverines try to regroup from their worst stretch of the season Sunday as they face a Nittany Lions team still seeking its first league win.
Michigan (21-4, 8-4) opened 20-1 but since has dropped three of four, with its lone victory coming 76-74 in overtime over then-No. 10 Ohio State on Feb. 5.
After falling 81-73 at then-No. 3 Indiana on Feb. 2 and 65-62 in overtime at Wisconsin on Feb. 9, the Wolverines were handed by far their most lopsided defeat of the season Tuesday, 75-52 at No. 8 Michigan State.
Trey Burke scored 18 against the Spartans but Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.5 points per game) was limited to two on a career-worst 1-of-11 shooting. Michigan was outrebounded 41-30 and committed a season-high 16 turnovers.
“There’s part of it that has to stick with them, and that part of it is we have to embrace reality – this is life at this level,” Beilein said. “You’re going to have bumps in the road and it’s part of getting better. That was a big bump, but we just move on.”
Michigan has to like its chances of doing just that with Penn State (8-16, 0-12) coming to town. The Wolverines have taken four straight and 17 of 20 from the Nittany Lions, who are on the verge of their worst start in Big Ten play since joining the conference in 1992-93.
Despite that success, Michigan knows it can’t afford to take them lightly.
“We have a challenge with Penn State that’s playing better and better despite their record,” said Beilein, whose team visits Bryce Jordan Center on Feb. 27, three days after hosting Illinois. “We have to be ready.”
Michigan figures to have an even bigger edge playing at home, where it’s won 30 of 31, including all 14 games this season by an average of 22.9 points. Penn State, meanwhile, has dropped 16 straight road games dating to December 2011.
The Nittany Lions had a chance to pick up their first league win Thursday but couldn’t come through down the stretch in a 74-72 loss to Iowa. D.J. Newbill, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points, had 26 and Sasa Borovnjak and Jermaine Marshall added 14 apiece for Penn State, which was outrebounded 40-29.
“We have our ups and downs, and right now we hit a low,” said Marshall, who was 3 of 13 but also had a career-high 10 assists. “We just need to hang tough and I think we’re going to keep a great attitude and we’re going to keep pushing.
“Tomorrow’s a new day. We need to come in with the same intensity we had in that game … and get better.”
While Hardaway will surely be looking to come out strong after Tuesday’s forgettable effort, the Nittany Lions could have an easier time keeping up Sunday if they can contain Glenn Robinson III. The 6-foot-6 freshman averaged 12.1 points over the first 21 games but has been limited to a combined 18 on 29.2 percent shooting during the team’s 1-3 stretch.
“He’s doing the best that he can do right now,” Beilein said. “He’s a heck of a player and his potential is so huge.”
Continuing to deal with a sprained right ankle, Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan has missed two of the last five games and scored one point in a combined 15 minutes in the other three. It’s unknown if he’ll rejoin the starting lineup Sunday.
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