NEW YORK — Minutes into the second half, junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. made an ankle-breaking crossover and pulled up for a jump shot. Seconds later, he got a hand on a Kansas State shot and pulled down the rebound. Madison Square Garden was his stage to shine on.
Hardaway paced the fourth-ranked Wolverines (5-0) on Friday when they opened the second half on a 14-5 run, pushing their lead to 14 points by the time Wildcats coach Bruce Weber called a timeout to stop the game from getting out of reach. Michigan led by five at halftime, but with the early push in the second half and Hardaway’s 23 points and seven rebounds, the Wolverines sealed their first NIT Season Tip-Off championship, beating Kansas State (4-1), 71-57.
“It was one of our first goals to win the NIT Championship,” said sophomore guard Trey Burke. “We did a great job of taking it one game at a time. The coaching staff did a good job of preparing us each and every game. We won a hard-fought game against Pitt and a hard-fought game today.”
The game was broken wide open after Michigan’s six-minute run in the first half, and it was evident by the way the Wolverines played. Michigan cut down on its transition game and started shooting more outside shots, and freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and Hardaway even attempted dunks — something that’s only been done late in Michigan’s previous blowout wins.
Hardaway, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, left the game early on precautions for a concussion, but was flanked by performances from Robinson and Burke. The Columbus, Ohio native was silent for the first half — he didn’t attempt a shot and had two turnovers — but found the open lane and his groove in the second half, putting up 10 points, six rebounds and four assists. Robinson was close to his first career double-double, as he contributed nine points and 12 rebounds.
Freshmen Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary contributed nicely off the bench with 10 and six points, respectively, and with his career-high 12 boards, Robinson paced the Wolverines to a 42-30 margin in rebounding. Michigan coach John Beilein was pleased with his team’s rebounding performance in the semifinals against Pittsburgh and was similarly happy with the rebounding efforts against Kansas State.
“We haven’t been able to (rebound) in the past,” Beilein said. “We’re doing it well now of blocking out and getting our own offensive rebounds like you saw today.”
The first half wasn’t so easy for Michigan, though, as the Wildcats were a force in the paint. Despite shooting 29 percent, Kansas State kept it close with 12 points on eight offensive rebounds in the first stanza. The Wildcats finished with 12 offensive boards and 18 second-chance points, significantly less than their 25 offensive rebounds per game average.
“I thought rebounding was the big difference in the first half,” Weber said. “Going into the four-minute mark, they got three or four of them down the stretch and they kept the lead. ... Rebounding has been our strength, and they end up punking us on the boards. That’s supposed to be our strength, and they made it their strength this game.”
The Wolverines also got into foul trouble in the first half, which forced Michigan coach John Beilein to look to his bench. Redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan and Burke sat out 10 and six minutes of the first half, respectively, when each picked up his second personal foul.
McGary and freshman guard Spike Albrecht filled in nicely for the veterans, but Michigan struggled offensively without Burke. In the final six minutes, the Wolverines went 2-for-7 from the field while Kansas State cut Michigan’s lead by seven, putting the Wolverines up by five at the end of the first half.
“(Foul trouble was) not concerning at all,” Beilein said. “Burke had two fouls and we have a lot of confidence in Spike. Then we have that third big guy if we needed him ... and thank God (redshirt sophomore forward) Jon (Horford) was there to help us. We haven’t always had this luxury of having that extra big guy to help us or extra point guy. You don’t want to see anybody sitting on the bench, but we know when we turn to the bench, we have some guys that can get in there.”
Hardaway and Burke were named to the All-Tournament Team along with Pitt’s Talib Zanna, Delaware’s Devon Saddler and Kansas State’s Angel Hernandez.