"The Monster" showed up in the first half, and his big buddies followed closely. The combined effort mashed Penn State, 83-66, putting Michigan one step closer to a four-step program for success.
Freshman Mitch McGary carries the tag, bestowed on him by assistant coach LaVall Jordan. He also carried the Wolverines in a first half in which starting big man Jordan Morgan struggled and Michigan as a whole needed a lift.
Morgan burst off the bench for a first-half double-double, supplying 10 points and 10 rebounds, and igniting one of the bigger big-man parties of the season.
"J-Mo was having a bit of a rough start, and coaches told me to go in there and provide the spark the team needed," McGary said. "I got our guys into it, got a few offensive rebounds, a few put-backs, got the bench into it, got the crowd into it. That's what I take pride in. It lifted the team and helped get us on a little run.
"I just wanted to go in there and get rebounds. That's why they call me 'The Monster.' Coach Val
says, 'Go grab your rebounds, Monster.' I did what he told me."
McGary didn't score in the second half, and grabbed only one more rebound, but the show turned into Monsters, Inc. after intermission. Redshirt sophomore Jon Horford came on to supply 11 points and five rebounds, teaming with Morgan's four and two to produce a combined bigs total of 25 points and 18 rebounds.
That's a huge day for any post player, and the combo put a monstrous smile of assistant coach Bacari Alexander's face.
"They exceeded the goal," Alexander beamed. "Quite frankly, our goal has been 15 points and 15 rebounds in every game, all season, by committee. Today, I thought there was an infectious enthusiasm once Mitch McGary checked into the game.
"Then what you saw was this huge contagion of guys like Horford saying, 'You know what? I don't want to be left out.' Then Morgan watching from the bench said, 'Hold on - what about me?' They all jumped into the fray.
"You saw the first-half performance from Mitch, second-half performance for Jon that was really, really remarkable. I was a proud papa today."
Morgan, who struggled early and certainly didn't enjoy his best day, still enjoyed Michigan's day.
"You could probably say it's our best game as a group," Morgan said. "For both of those guys to come off the bench and do what they did, bringing a lot of energy
we found opportunities off our misses and were able to get put-backs. It's good when we can put anybody in the game and get the job done."
"We all try to pick each other up - not just the bigs, but as a team as a whole," Horford added. "That's key. Guys are going to make mistakes. You've just got to make sure they stay positive, and understand that what's in the past is in the past. You can't do anything about it. You can only control what you do going forward."
That's the message, and all of the Wolverines needed to absorb it after having their hearts ripped from their chests on Sunday afternoon against Indiana. They all talked about moving on quickly after a last-second shot rolled off the rim, turning a Big Ten championship into a No. 5 seed in the conference tournament.
But when Penn State burst out to a 14-3 lead, everyone might have wondered if the Wolverines were in for a monstrosity of an upset. The Monster seemed to wake them up, and they resumed a chase toward the bigger and better.
"The Big Ten Conference is very unforgiving," Alexander said. "You don't have the luxury of, like we always say, 'Wearing a backpack.' We can't carry past experiences and put them in your backpack and try to play the next game with all of that. That's a pretty heavy weight to bear. So you move on, because there are so many other things on the horizon, out there waiting for you.
"Big Ten Tournament championship, NCAA Tournament championship
the carrot that constantly dangles is, you still have life on the back end of the season. It gives you the ability to move on."
Alexander quipped that maybe the big men he coaches took a quick trip to see the Dalai Lama prior to heading for Chicago. No confirmation there, but they definitely arrived at the United Center.
"It felt good," McGary said. "Coach always says we've got bigs, and tonight we showed up."
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