NEW YORK (AP) — Brandon Johns Jr. left Madison Square Garden with a black eye, but also the best game of his career.
Johns Jr. scored a career-high 20 points and Michigan won its 10th straight in games at the Garden, beating No. 25 Rutgers 69-63 on Saturday.
“This is something that has happened all season long, game by game. Brandon’s been playing great for us all year,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “This is not just today. Brandon’s been playing great for us all year. A lot of things that he’s doing to help us win don’t really show up in the box score.”
Including the purple welt that was forming under his right eye while sitting on the dais for the postgame news conference. Bumps and bruises that are becoming regular for Michigan’s sophomore big man.
“I guess it’s just normal for me now,” Johns said. “But I’ll take it. I’ll give everything to help the team win.”
Jon Teske added 14 points as the Wolverines (13-8, 4-6 Big Ten) improved to 12-0 against Rutgers, including a victory in the 1976 Final Four.
It also was the Wolverines’ first game winning this season when scoring under 70 points. They were previously 0-6.
Michigan used a 20-5 run over a 10-minute span in the first half to take a 27-17 lead. Montez Mathis hit 3-pointers on back-to back possessions as Rutgers (16-6, 7-4) chipped away, pulling within 37-34 at the break.
Mathis had a steal and a fast break layup that put the Scarlet Knights up 38-37 with 17:39 to go. Teske’s layup a couple minutes later put the Wolverines ahead, and his 3 with just under 12 minutes left made it 51-42.
Michigan built its lead to 16 points before Rutgers rallied, closing to 65-63 with 19.2 seconds to go when Geo Baker hit a 3 for his only basket of the game.
Mathis had 17 points and eight rebounds to lead Rutgers.
“Every game poses different challenges. You probably had one of the best big guys and point guards in this game. We’ll have different challenges against No. 15 Maryland, two days prep time and get ready to go,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Tomorrow everyone will be enjoying the Super Bowl and we won’t.”
Michigan: The Wolverines have struggled as of late, despite rising to as high as No. 4 in the AP poll after a 7-0 start. Before defeating Nebraska this week, they had lost four in a row and five of the last six. Two wins in a row could get a once-promising season back on track.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are in the midst of their best season in recent memory. Receiving an AP Top 25 ranking for the first time in 41 years two weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights are well on the way to their first postseason appearance since the 2006 NIT and can play their way into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990-91.
Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson returned after serving a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, missing Michigan’s win at Nebraska on Tuesday night. That was the first game Simpson had missed in his Michigan career, snapping a streak of 135 in a row. The senior averages 12.8 points and 8.3 assists per game and a team-high 33.7 minutes per game. He had nine points and 10 assists in his return.
After climbing into the rankings, the Scarlet Knights will likely fall out after going 1-1 this week.
Michigan is 22-9 overall in the current Garden, and hasn’t lost in the building since falling to Duke in 2008. It wasn’t just Rutgers vs. Michigan in basketball. The two schools had a wrestling match at the Garden prior to the basketball game in the B1G Super Saturday. Michigan won on the mat.
Michigan: Host rival Ohio State on Tuesday.
Rutgers: At No. 15 Maryland on Tuesday.