WICHITA, Kan. — Michigan and Montana stood around, waiting for action to restart.
There was a shot clock malfunction with just under 17 minutes to play in the second half, and it took an extraordinarily long amount of time to get it working again. When the shot clock did resume ticking properly, the game paused again moments later for the under-16 media timeout.
The stops and starts, coupled with sloppy play all around, were enough to make the game feel tired.
In the end, it didn’t matter for the Wolverines (13-5 Big Ten, 29-7 overall). They sleepwalked their way to a 61-47 win to earn a matchup against sixth-seeded Houston on Saturday.
“Good teams win those games. They grind them out. They find ways to win,” said fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson. “I thought we did a really, really good job defensively. We just really stuck with the gameplan and battled it out.”
Things couldn’t have started much worse for Michigan.
Three seconds in, junior forward Moritz Wagner was called for a travel off the opening tip. Then, with 11 seconds elapsed, senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman picked up his first foul. Over the next few minutes, sophomore guard Zavier Simpson picked up two fouls and was relegated to the bench, while the Wolverines turned the ball over once again.
Oh, and they didn’t score a point. Four minutes into the game, they trailed 10-0.
Even still, fifth-year senior guard Jaaron Simmons — who filled in when Simpson came out — and redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews scored six and 12 points, respectively, to give Michigan a three-point lead at the halftime break.
The grogginess of the whole matchup showed through on the court for the Wolverines. Their usual fire and swagger that drove them to nine consecutive wins coming into Thursday was almost completely absent.
Wagner, the team’s leading scorer, had just five points all game. Simpson didn’t have the same dynamic control of the offense he’s shown down the stretch of the season, scoring just five points while turning it over a couple times in transition.
“We felt the same thing,” said freshman forward Isaiah Livers of the feel of the game. “It was like, when Charles was dunking, you don’t hear anything. It’s just quiet. It was a late game, so we all knew that was going to happen. We just had to find a way for us to get the ‘W’ and move on.”
If Montana had mounted any sort of offensive threat at all, Michigan might have been in trouble.
But the Grizzlies were even more useless with the ball in their hands. They shot 33 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 12 times themselves. During the stretch when the clock broke and nobody seemed to know how to fix it, Montana was in the midst of a scoring drought that nearly reached ten minutes before Ahmaad Rorie’s 3-pointer with 9:30 left.
Beyond the contributions of Michael Oguine and Rorie, the Grizzlies’ two leading scorers, the rest of the team combined for 14 total points.
“I thought we had a really good scouting report,” Robinson said. “I thought we really honed in our personnel, and stuck with our defensive scheme and being in the right spots. We knew we had to clog up the paint and made it tough for them to drive, because they’re really tough to beat when they get down there.”
At the end of the game, the clocks mercifully crawled toward zero. Those who remained from the 14,000 people who once filled the stands aimlessly meandered their way out of the arena.
Some of them will come back Saturday to see the Wolverines take on the Cougars in the second round. It might be tough for them to remember exactly how Michigan got there, because for parts of Thursday night’s game, both literally and figuratively, it seemed like time was standing still.