- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Moritz Wagner had a quiet freshman season last year at Michigan, averaging fewer than three points and two rebounds a game as a seldom-used player.

It looks like Wagner has changed and so has his role with the Wolverines.

Wagner scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half and Zak Irvin finished with 16 points and seven assists, helping Michigan hold off Furman for a 68-62 victory Thursday night.

“My teammates are trusting me and wanting me to be aggressive,” Wagner said. “I took a lot of shots. That isn’t my style.”

It might be if he keeps making shots and giving opponents someone to defend other than Irvin and fellow senior Derrick Walton Jr.

Wagner made 7 of 16 shots, including a 3-pointer, all three of his free throws and grabbed a team-high six rebounds. The 6-foot-11, 240-pound forward from Germany has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, including 15 against Texas, 11 against UCLA and a career-high 20 against Kennesaw State.

“It’s like your bigs are guarding a guard, and it’s so difficult to handle,” Furman coach Niko Medved said. “He’s a touch matchup and he’s really improved since last year.”

Wagner helped the Wolverines (10-3) give coach John Beilein his 750th victory, 492 as a Division I coach, with their third straight win.

“He’s going to make a play look so easy, then he’s going to make a play so hard,” Beilein said. “There’s a process. … He’s got a chance to be a really good Michigan player.”

The Paladins (7-6) were very competitive in a game with 12 lead changes and eight ties, giving them a good chance to beat a Big Ten school for the first time since knocking off Illinois in 1975.

Walton Jr. made a 3-pointer with 24.9 seconds left, giving his team a six-point cushion it needed to seal the victory.

“That was a great challenge for us to play a smart team that milked the clock a little bit,” Beilein said. “We needed something like that.”

STRONG SHOWING

Furman started strong in each half. It opened the second half with an 11-0 run, holding the Wolverines scoreless for 4 ½ minutes, after trailing by six points in a closely contested first half. Devin Sibley scored 14, Matt Rafferty had 12 points and John Davis added 10 for the Paladins.

“This is the best team we played, but I felt like our kids could compete and I’d love to have the last 2 minutes back,” Medved said. “Late in the game, we stepped out of bounds just before making a 3 that would’ve tied it.”

BIG PICTURE

Furman: The Paladins seem capable of competing with Chattanooga and East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference, which they haven’t won since 1980. Furman has a senior and four juniors in the starting lineup, with four returning starters. Fourth-year coach Niko Medved helped the program win 19 games last season, an eight-game improvement, and finish third in the conference. The Paladins beat UAB 81-74 and lost to Georgia by six points in back-to-back games last month.

“That team will give us a lot of RPI points because they’ll win a lot of games in their league,” Beilein said.

Michigan: The Wolverines are not expected to contend for a Big Ten title with Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, but Walton said they shouldn’t be counted out of the race before it starts.

“We can play with anybody,” Walton said. “I like our chances.”

UP NEXT

Furman hosts The Citadel on Dec. 31.

Michigan plays Jan. 1 at Iowa.

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Follow Larry Lage at www.twitter.com/larrylage

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