BY CHANTEL JENNINGS
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 26, 2010
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — As Tim Hardaway Jr. ran onto main court to a thunderous roar at the historic Boardwalk Hall he was immediately brought back to the final game of high school career.
In that regional semifinal game he was met by an opposing section full of fans holding sticks attached to enlarged photos of his father’s face that harassed him during his team’s 51-39 loss.
But this time it was worse. The overwhelming Syracuse crowd here at the Championship Round of the Legends Classic took their feet and began to heckle the Wolverines immediately and didn’t stop until the ninth-ranked Orange wrestled tooth and nail to a 53-50 victory over the Wolverines in Atlantic City, N.J.
“I’ve never played in something like that,” Hardaway, who finished 3-for-12 from the field, said. “How people talk smack on the sidelines and you can hear it. It’s just being prepared and getting ready for that — that’s the college level.”
Michigan (3-1) fought tightly with the top-10 team, leading with less than five minutes remaining in the game, but the Wolverines’ 12 second-half fouls put Syracuse (5-0) on the line 12 times in the second period.
On the game, Michigan racked up 19 team fouls that sent major players to the bench — four of the starters had at least three personal fouls. Redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan’s foul troubles were especially apparent as he went to the bench early only to be replaced by smaller post players that didn’t match up as well with Syracuse’s post contingent of Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph.
But it was Morgan’s early game play, jumping out to score a quick six points, that put the Syracuse 7-foot center Fab Melo on the bench after just four minutes. Melo didn’t see game time the rest of the game.
But the loss of Melo didn’t hurt Syracuse in scoring — Jackson, Joseph and Scoop Jardine accounted for 43 of the Orange’s 53 points.
As expected, Syracuse’s trademark, aggressive 2-3 zone defense gave the Wolverines some trouble initially — the wingspan and height of the Syracuse players wasn’t something Michigan has seen yet this season, and probably something they won’t see again.
“They are long as hell,” sophomore Matt Vogrich said. “That’s why (Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim uses the zone. I don’t know how he does it, but they play the best 2-3 zone ever, maybe.”
In the first half, that trouble was alleviated by sophomore Darius Morris as he drove the lane and dished the ball out for five assists — hitting several Wolverines for wide open 3-pointers.
Junior Stu Douglass was one of those Wolverines who provided a spark by scoring a quick eight points off the bench, allowing Michigan to head into the half leading the Orange 31-29.
But after the break Syracuse pushed the zone out even farther, cutting off previously open passing lanes and making shots more contested than they’d been. The pressure worked as Michigan shot 16.7 percent from behind the arc in the second half.
“You only have so many things that you can do when they adjust (the defense) and they adjust it and they adjust it,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Then we had to play ball with a very high IQ level and sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t.”
Tomorrow, the Wolverines will take on the University of Texas El Paso in the consolation game, which should provide another interesting situation for Hardaway, whose father played at UTEP in the late 1980’s. Hardaway Sr. has promised that he would be rooting for Michigan in the game.
But for now, neither he nor any of his teammates are thinking about that.
“We don’t like to lose and this was certainly a game we could’ve won,” Beilein said. “And now we just grow from it. Our kids are not pleased with this defeat and nor are the coaches but we have to bounce back tomorrow against UTEP. Show again that you just do some of the same things but finish it with a win.”