NEW YORK (AP) — Derrick Walton Jr. had quite a stat line Saturday. He had a lot of faith in his Michigan teammates, too.
Walton had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Wolverines in a 79-72 victory over Penn State at Madison Square Garden.
“I said it time and time again: This group of guys are really resilient. Game after game, we have made runs, withstood runs and we never get too high or too low,” Walton said.
“Tonight was another great example. We couldn’t get a shot to go, we had a couple of empty possessions in a row, but just with the character of this group we always knew that down the road guys make the big plays we’re accustomed to getting.”
Zak Irvin scored 20 points and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 15 for Michigan (17-5, 7-2 Big Ten), which won for the fifth time in six games.
Both teams were excited about playing in Madison Square Garden.
“It was a great experience for us, especially with the crowd being over 12,000. That’s awesome,” Irvin said. “The momentum was going both ways and we were able to adjust to that. I’m just proud of how hard we were able to fight.”
The Wolverines led throughout the game and looked to be putting it away until Penn State managed one last drive to keep it close.
Brandon Taylor had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (11-11, 2-7), who have lost five of six.
Michigan took a 10-point lead three times in the first half and the Wolverines’ biggest lead of the half came when Irvin hit a 3 at the halftime buzzer to make it 38-26.
Irvin scored four points in a 7-0 run that gave the Wolverines a 60-43 lead and it looked like Michigan was getting ready to pull away.
But Shep Garner, who finished with 22 points, hit two 3s and Davis Zemgulis added another as the Nittany Lions got within 64-59 with 4:46 to play.
Duncan Robinson and Walton scored for Michigan to end the run and Penn State was never closer than six points the rest of the way
“We’ve got a youthful team and when they make mistakes, because they want to be perfect, it hurts for that 3-to-4 minute spurt that the other team goes on,” Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. “These younger kids are getting better and I am gaining more confidence in them.”
Garner was 1 of 5 from 3-point range in the first half but he finished 5 of 12 from long range. Penn State came into the game shooting 29 percent on 3s and finished 9 of 29 (31 percent).
“I just think it’s confidence,” Chambers said of Garner’s shooting. “We did a pretty good job of getting him some one-two-step 3-point shots. That’s something else we’ve been talking about — other guys need to get Shep shots instead of him trying to get his shots off ball screens and dribble handles.”
Michigan was shooting 41.7 percent from long range — 19th in the nation — and the Wolverines went 6 of 20 (30 percent) on Saturday.
HOCKEY & HOOPS: This game was part of the Big Ten Super Saturday. The schools met in basketball in the afternoon and then in hockey at night. The basketball attendance was 12,108.
FIRST MEETING: Michigan won the first meeting this season, 79-56, with the Wolverines making 10 of 14 3-point attempts in Ann Arbor.
Michigan: This was the eighth game that Caris LeVert has missed with a lower left leg injury. He still leads the team in scoring (17.6), rebounds (5.4) and assists (5.2). His status is listed as day-to-day. … The Wolverines are 18-11 at Madison Square Garden. Their last trip here resulted in the 2012 NIT Season Tip-Off.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions came into the game with a five-game winning streak at Madison Square Garden that included the 2009 NIT championship.
Michigan hosts No. 19 Indiana on Tuesday.
Penn State at No. 3 Iowa on Wednesday.