By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 9, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS — The No. 10 Michigan basketball team had chance after chance against Minnesota, but continually squandered them. For most of regulation’s final moments, it appeared mistakes and uncharacteristic misses would doom the Wolverines.
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But with the ball in his hands, in perhaps the most important moment of his young basketball career, sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz took full advantage of his opportunity — sinking a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56 apiece.
“I was about to go for a layup … and I just basically locked eyes with Evan,” said senior guard Stu Douglass. “There Evan was, standing wide open. … Something told me it was going in.”
After Minnesota couldn’t convert on two tries to take the lead — one coming on an inbound play with 1.1 seconds left — the Wolverines escaped to overtime, where it was all Michigan.
Douglass opener the extra period with a 3-pointer from the corner, freshman point guard Trey Burke connected on another three on Michigan’s next offensive possession and the Wolverines never looked back, winning their quarterfinal game, 73-69, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Burke, playing in the first postseason game of his career, score a career-high 30 points to lead all scorers.
“The story just keeps going on because I feel like sometimes I'm talking to a senior,” said Michigan coach John Beilein of Burke. “He is talking to me in the game about things that he thinks we can use in our offense. And it's a pleasure. It's a wonder to have a guy who understands basketball at 19 years old as a freshman like he does.
“He wants to win more than he wants to score points, but he also is not afraid to take it at people.”
Michigan was able to overcome a horrid start to the first half to force a competitive second half, but Minnesota junior guard Austin Welch took over late in the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers. For a few moments, it appeared as if he would end Michigan’s run for a Big Ten Tournament Championship almost before it started.
The Wolverines couldn’t convert on multiple opportunities to close marginal deficits in the final minutes of regulation. Douglass uncharacteristically missed a wide open mid-range jumper, sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a transition layup and the front end of a 1-and-1, and senior guard Zack Novak air-balled an open 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds remaining.
But after Smotrycz’s 3-pointer, the Wolverines held the Golden Gophers to a miss on the final sequence of regulation. Michigan carried its momentum into overtime and will advance to the semifinals of the tournament, where it’ll face the winner of the Ohio State-Purdue game.
Douglass flashed the composure of a tested senior, scoring five points in the extra frame, but Burke stole the show, leading Michigan with nine overtime points.
“That’s just what Trey does,” Douglass said. “His confidence has only grown. That’s a scary thing.”
Added Burke: “We came with a different attitude as a team. It was the defensive end. We came out … (in) overtime (and we) didn't score in the first possession, but we knew that (the game) was going to be (won) on the defensive end. We locked down, got on the boards, and we just came out with another mindset as a team.”
The first 13 minutes of the second half was all back-and-forth, with the teams trading leads several times. But then Welch swung the game in Minnesota’s favor — momentarily sucking the life out of the Wolverines.
As a team, the Golden Gophers punished Michigan all-night long from long range, hitting nine 3-pointers.
Hardaway Jr. got things rolling out of the break as he has so many times in his career, scoring Michigan’s first nine points in the second half. The sophomore finished with 20 points, 18 of which came in the second half and overtime.
The first half got off to a sloppy start for Michigan. Minnesota scored the game’s first five points, before jumping out to 9-1 and 11-4 leads.
“Minnesota, in the beginning of the first half, just showed incredible quickness,” Beilein said. “I think it put us back on our heels immediately. We hadn't seen that type of defense, and it was a great to start the game (for them). It took us a while, dug us into a big hole.”
But the Wolverines — despite an unusually high six first-half turnovers — battled back, thanks to a stellar performance from Burke.
The freshman carried Michigan through a shoddy opening stanza.