Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis were once again Michigan’s two leading scorers in tonight’s 68-55 win over Penn State, finishing with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
The Wolverines led just 25-20 at halftime, but exploded for 43 points in the second half en route to the club’s 14th straight win.
The perfect record has vaulted Michigan to No. 2 in the AP poll, but Brazdeikis insisted the Wolverines are still playing like they’re the hunters, not the hunted.
“We don’t play like we’re the No. 2 team in the country,” he explained. “We play like we have something to prove every night.
“We can’t let anything get in our heads, because it’s important to stay focused, humble and confident. We’ve proven we’re the hungrier team each and every night, and that’s what got us the win this evening.
“It’s all about the scrappiness we have and the will to win — we never want to lose. We all believe we can win every game, and that’s the mentality we have in practice. The intensity level hasn’t changed in practice for us over the last few months, and that’s another big key for us.”
The Maize and Blue have shown their scrappiness on several occasions this year, perhaps most notably when they came away with a hard-fought 62-60 win at Northwestern on Dec. 4.
It was on display once again tonight, consistently holding off a Penn State club who refused to go away until the game’s final stretch.
“Being able to answer a run when a team scores multiple baskets on you is something we take pride in,” Poole noted. “Teams are going to go on runs, but we’re usually able to slow down their momentum with the way we respond.”
This was perhaps never more evident than with two minutes to play when Penn State had trimmed Michigan’s lead to 60-51.
Brazdeikis then proceeded to nail a corner three to extend it back to 63-51, all but ending the game.
“I never feel pressure,” he laughed. “I’m mentally prepared for every second out there. My shot has improved a lot, and I’ve been saying that it would for months — it’ll only get better from here.
“I could miss 20 straight shots, but if I get an open one, I’m going to take it.”
Poole was impressed with the freshman’s 16-point, 11-rebound performance as well.
“[Junior point guard] Zavier [Simpson] did a good job of finding him tonight,” the sophomore exclaimed. “Penn State didn’t sag off me much, so Zavier was able to find Iggy on that big corner three late in the game.
“He took advantage of all the open shots he got.”
Poole is taking advantage of the opportunities he’s been getting as well this season, specifically from three.
He had just a 1-for-4 showing tonight, but entered the contest hitting 50 percent of his triples on the year.
“I pick the right shots,” Poole said. “Today was the first time I was being denied the ball on the perimeter, and that’s something that hadn’t happened since high school.
“We read their coverages well, though, and that got us going in the second half. Coaches are trusting me to put me in positions to make plays for others.”