ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The stage is set for another Michigan-Ohio State showdown — this time on the hardwood.
Franz Wagner scored 20 points and Mike Smith added 12 to lift No. 3 Michigan to a 71-64 victory over Rutgers on Thursday night. Hunter Dickinson added 10 points for the Wolverines, who avoided a slip-up before their game at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday.
“It’s prime time,” Smith said. “You live for these days and these games. It’s going to be a championship-caliber game for sure. You work so hard to play in these games, it’s prime time, it’s gonna be fun.”
The Wolverines and Buckeyes didn't renew their famous football rivalry last season. That game was called off for coronavirus-related reasons. So basketball will have to suffice. In addition to Sunday's matchup between two top-five teams on the men's side, Michigan and Ohio State will also meet in women's basketball that day, with both teams ranked in the top 15.
Jacob Young scored 16 points for Rutgers, which led early but lacked the offensive sharpness necessary to keep up with Michigan. The Scarlet Knights (12-8, 8-8 Big Ten) have never beaten the Wolverines. Michigan (15-1, 10-1) has won all 14 meetings.
The Wolverines won their second straight game since returning from a lengthy layoff after the athletic department paused activities because of the virus.
“That’s as good of a team as I’ve played in my five years here in this league,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
Rutgers led 9-4 early but couldn’t score consistently enough to put the Wolverines in any significant danger. Brandon Johns Jr. made a 3-pointer that put Michigan up 22-17 and capped a 16-6 run.
Michigan led 37-28 at halftime, then scored eight of the first 10 points after the break to lead by 15.
Wagner set up a couple dunks by Dickinson in the second half with clever passes inside.
“I think for me it’s important to stay aggressive, kind of take my time out there," Wagner said. "Today I hit a couple more shots.”
NOT LOOKING AHEAD
Michigan coach Juwan Howard — who beat Ohio State in a regional final in 1992 as a player for the Wolverines — said he'd start worrying about the Buckeyes on Friday. He wanted to enjoy the win over Rutgers a bit more.
His team didn't show any signs of being flat Thursday.
“Only big game that we had coming up was Rutgers,” Howard said.
Rutgers: For the first few minutes, the Scarlet Knights looked like they could give Michigan problems with their scrappy defense, but it was always the other end of the court that was going to be a potential problem for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had only three turnovers in the game, but they shot 40% from the field and made only three 3-pointers.
“They give you midrange. When we got to the rim, it’s real hard to finish,” Pikiell said. “You’ve got to make shots in a game like this. We missed some open 3s that could’ve helped us.”
Michigan: The Big Ten-leading Wolverines continue to roll. Michigan was in control for essentially the whole second half, although the Wolverines weren't at their best near the end and let Rutgers cut the lead into single digits. When Michigan had problems offensively, its defense didn't waver.
“Our defense is our offense," Smith said. “If we can’t score, we’re going to keep getting stops.”
Michigan trails only Gonzaga and Baylor — two unbeaten teams — in the AP poll. Rutgers missed the Top 25 by only two spots this week, but the Scarlet Knights couldn't come up with the upset Thursday.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host Maryland on Sunday.
Michigan: The Wolverines play at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were challenged a bit Thursday night but beat Penn State 92-82.
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More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25