ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There was nothing easy about Michigan's return home following back-to-back Big Ten road losses, despite playing conference doormat Penn State.
Although the Nittany Lions entered Sunday's matchup without a Big Ten win, they led throughout much of the first half and hung close with the Wolverines deep into the second.
But despite Penn State's efforts, the Wolverines held off the Nittany Lions 79-71 while former Michigan basketball luminaries, such as Phil Hubbard, Glen Rice and Cazzie Russell looked on as part of a celebration of the renovated Crisler Center.
Although the current Wolverines players wore throwback uniforms modeled after the one Russell donned during the 1967-68 season, Michigan needed to look no deeper into the past than the start of this season for inspiration.
After winning 16 consecutive games to begin the campaign, the Wolverines had dropped three of their last four entering Sunday's contest, including a blowout loss last Tuesday at archrival Michigan State.
"They were the tougher team that night," Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke said of the Spartans. "We have a lot of young guys who haven't been used to adversity. Because of that (game) we've learned something."
The ability to play through challenges was on display against Penn State, particularly by Burke, Michigan's leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. He paced the Wolverines with a season-high 29 points, while freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and freshman guard Nik Stauskas followed with 21 and 18 points, respectively.
Penn State's top scorers were guards Jermaine Marshall and Sasa Borovnjak with 17 points each. D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis scored 11 points apiece, while Travis led the team with 10 rebounds.
But Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers was more impressed with the defense.
"I thought our team defense was pretty good today," Chambers said. "I was proud of them."
The Associated Press No. 4-ranked Wolverines (22-4, 9-4 Big Ten), who were coming off an overtime loss at Wisconsin followed by the loss at Michigan State, were plagued by poor shooting in the first half Sunday. It was the same issue that hounded them against the Spartans.
Normally one of the nation's best shooting teams, Michigan connected on just 39.6 percent of its field-goal attempts against the Spartans, and began the game against Penn State (8-17, 0-13) by shooting 36 percent overall, and 20 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half.
"Personally, I missed some easy ones in the first half," Stauskas said. "I knew they were going to start dropping sometime. I made a couple of the second half, and that was good."
Thanks in large measure to the play of Stauskas and Robinson, those shooting numbers did improve in the second half. Robinson, known primarily for his inside play, burnished his reputation with three dunks in the first 10 minutes of the half, including a pair on alley-oop passes from Stauskas and Burke.
For the game, Robinson finished a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor and added nine free throws. The freshman also paced the Wolverines with 10 rebounds.
Stauskas, who missed all three of his first-half 3-point attempts, made two second half tries.
As a team, the Wolverines finished with 46.9 percent shooting for the game against Penn State, which led by as many as eight points in the first half.
A jumper by Burke in the final minute of the first half tied the game 32-32 going into halftime. Penn State started strong on the inside, scoring 12 points in the paint, while Michigan found its offense mainly from Burke, who poured in 14 in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, and two points from the free throw line.
The Wolverines also received an offensive boost from Robinson. Robinson, who scored just two points in Michigan's loss at Michigan State, scored eight first-half points, including a pair of back-to-back dunks.
"Last week was a difficult week for our kids," Michigan coach John Beilein said afterward. "We just needed a win any way possible. One point, two points. ... We just needed a W."
Notes: Penn State's leading scorer, Newbill (16.2 point per game) committed three first-half fouls and had just three points in the first half. ... The Nittany Lions have yet to claim victory in 2013. Their last win came Dec. 29. ... Michigan forward Jordan Morgan, who has been bothered by an ankle injury for several weeks, started but played just four first-half minutes, and seven overall. ... The Wolverines attempted 35 free throws in the game, compare with a combined eight free throws attempted in their last two losses.