| The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Wolverines were looking to maintain their momentum heading into this weekend’s top-five showdown.
They leaned on their balanced offensive attack and solid defense to make sure it happened.
No. 3 Michigan continued its dominance at home and reeled off its fourth straight win with a 71-64 victory over surging Rutgers on Thursday night at Crisler Center.
Sophomore wing Franz Wagner led the way with 20 points for Michigan (15-1, 10-1 Big Ten), which shot 46.2% from the field (24-for-52) and saw eight players score. Grad transfer guard Mike Smith added 12 points and freshman center Hunter Dickinson had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Jacob Young scored 16, Myles Johnson 13, Ron Harper Jr. 12 and Caleb McConnell 10 for Rutgers (12-8, 8-8), which shot 40.3% from the field (25-for-62) and 25% from 3-point range (3-for-12) to fall to 0-14 against Michigan all-time.
After taking a nine-point lead into the break, the Wolverines wasted little widening the gap with a 13-4 spurt to put the Scarlet Knights in a 16-point hole in the second half. Dickinson threw down a dunk off a feed from Wagner and senior forward Isaiah Livers buried a jumper to cap a string off eight unanswered points.
From there, Michigan continued to pick apart Rutgers’ defense as Wagner took over with his scoring, passing and vision. He buried an open 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to make it 50-34 with 13:49 remaining.
Wagner followed that with a driving layup and another drive and dish to Dickinson for an easy dunk, pushing Michigan’s lead to 54-37 less than two minutes later and the game on the verge of being a blowout.
That was until Michigan hit a patch where it went 5:34 without scoring and 6:44 between made field goals. Still, Rutgers could only cut the deficit to 12 before Livers snapped the dry spell with a free throw and Smith made a driving layup to make it 59-45 with 5:08 to go.
Rutgers turned up the defensive pressure and managed to hang around before using a 6-0 spurt to cut it to single digits, 63-55, with 1:51 to go. But Wagner thwarted the comeback attempt and provided the dagger with a 3-pointer in the final minute before the Wolverines closed out the win at the free-throw line.
The matchup pitted a pair of tough and physical defenses, and that was on display from the tip. The Wolverines got off to a slow start with three turnovers out of the gate and several disjoined possessions.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights brought the energy and threw the first punch, doing their damage from the mid-range area and draining tough jumpers to grab an 11-6 lead with 13:50 left in the first half.
But it was only a matter of time before Michigan tightened things up and started to settle in. Behind a spark from the bench unit, the Wolverines rattled off a 13-2 run to grab a 22-15 lead at the 8:39 mark.
Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. scored on spin and finish in the lane. Fifth-year senior center Austin Davis threw down a dunk off a wraparound feed from Wagner. Smith and Johns hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a seven-point game and force a Rutgers timeout.
The teams traded blows and Rutgers continued to hit enough long 2-pointers to hang around before Dickinson made back-to-back baskets in the paint and Wagner beat the buzzer with a difficult baseline floater to give Michigan a 37-28 advantage at the break.
Michigan travels Columbus on Sunday to take on No. 4 Ohio State, which is riding a seven-game winning streak.
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