BY ZAK PYZIK
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 26, 2010
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - As its 31-29 halftime lead began to recede against No. 9 Syracuse in the second half, the Michigan men's basketball team was more nervous than some turkeys were on Thanksgiving two days ago.
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But the Wolverines (3-1) understand that losing to a top-10 program is nothing to be embarrassed about.
“I think we had them,” sophomore guard Matt Vogrich said. “I think we should have won the game. But if we clean up some things then (we can learn). We should look at this in a positive way. If (Michigan coach John) Beilein can teach us some things and look at some film, we can get them next time.”
Michigan also understands that in less than 24 hours they must suit up again to contest UTEP in a third-place game — one which is equally as significant as the matchup with the Orange was. The Wolverines play the Miners today at 5:30 p.m.
“Last year after our first loss everybody just got discombobulated,” sophomore guard Darius Morris said on Friday night. “But we can’t do that because we play in less than 24 hours. My job is to get them ready. We are going to take a lot from this game. I’m emphasizing that we win together and we lose together.”
UTEP (3-2) lost its Friday matchup 71-61 against Georgia Tech (4-1). The Yellow Jackets took advantage of a weak post game and out-rebounded the Miners 44-35. Georgia Tech collected 16 offensive rebounds and forced 16 turnovers.
Michigan can take advantage of UTEP the same way that the Yellow Jackets had on Friday. In their loss against Syracuse (5-0), the Wolverines won the battle on the glass in the first half — collecting 23 rebounds to the Orange’s 17. Likewise, Michigan won the turnover margin after forcing 14 Syracuse turnovers. The Wolverines showed the skill to do to UTEP what Georgia Tech did to it on Friday night.
“We killed (Syracuse) in the first half with our big men,” sophomore guard Darius Morris said on Friday night. “They beat us because they made adjustments, but our big men are doing what they need to do.”
The Wolverines have been criticized for lacking a postgame, but recently, redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan has played aggressively for the Wolverines in the paint on both sides of the ball. Morgan tallied a team-high 11 points and 11 rebounds in Michigan’s loss to the Orange.
One issue for Michigan is that it may struggle defensively. If UTEP shoots the way that it did against Georgia Tech, the Wolverines may find themselves behind early. The Miners made 60 percent of their 3-pointers in the first half of Friday evening's contest.
UTEP’s offense boasts last year’s Conference-USA Player of the Year, guard Randy Culpepper. Culpepper led the Miners on Friday night with a team-high 13 points and four steals. Culpepper is the Miners' largest threat. Besides winning the game against UTEP, the Wolverines are fighting for one more trophy per se — the right to ex-NBA player Tim Hardaway’s fan hood.
Michigan freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has to suit up against the Miners — his dad’s alma mater — in front of him tonight.
While Hardaway Jr. said his dad has a lot of respect for UTEP’s program, he's also made it very clear that his dad is rooting for the Wolverines.