Veterans lead the way for the Wolverines

Monday, January 21, 2019 - 4:49pm

Senior guard Nicole Munger hit a key 3-pointer in Michigan's comeback against Ohio State.

Senior guard Nicole Munger hit a key 3-pointer in Michigan's comeback against Ohio State. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

Naz Hillmon may have led the Wolverines in scoring. Hailey Brown made two critical layups to keep Michigan within touching distance in the fourth quarter. And point guard Amy Dilk demonstrated poise at the helm by knocking down two clutch free throws late and providing her teammates with open looks on multiple occasions.

There were multiple performances from Michigan players that contributed to a come-from-behind win over bitter rival Ohio State on Sunday afternoon — many of them by underclassmen — and yet, the two biggest plays of the game came from the two senior Wolverines — guard Nicole Munger and center Hallie Thome. For a team largely characterized by its youthful exuberance and inexperience, the veterans stepped up in a massive way.

When Ohio State took a three-point lead with a minute left, Munger responded by drilling a three of her own.

“Being a senior she’s got to know ‘You’re getting you the ball.’ She is a tremendous shooter,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “The way she shoots the basketball in practice is incredible. She doesn’t miss. Now the same shots she’s not always getting in the game … but she’s just stayed the course and kept working on it.”

Seconds later, Thome blocked Makayla Waterman’s floater on the other end and snatched the rebound. From there, Michigan never looked back.

At times this season, both Munger and Thome have struggled to give the Wolverines the consistent on-court output they’re capable of, but their commitment to the team and the guidance they’ve provided for their younger teammates has never wavered. This game was just another example of that.

“It’s like having a coach on the floor,” Hillmon said. “Coach talks about how important the experience of Hal and Munger is and you can definitely see that. Just in our huddles, they’re the main ones talking.

“Nicole’s throwing her body everywhere. She’s sacrificing for the team. If there’s one person that’s for the team, the team, the team, it’s Munger. She goes out there every day and if her shot's not falling, she’ll play good defense. Anything she can do to pump us up.”

Against the Buckeyes, Munger was dangerous offensively — pouring in 18 points. Thome’s scoreline may not have been as impressive with just six points, but her presence was undeniable. Whether she and Thome filled up the stat sheet or not, they had a tremendous impact on the outcome of this game.

Though the Wolverines still sit tenth in the Big Ten, this game was as close to a must-win as any they’ve had this season and still keeps their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. In the fourth quarter, there was a discernible sense of urgency on display from the team in white, and Munger and Thome — with their days at Michigan numbered — were the catalysts.

“Hungry dogs run faster and we’re hungry,” Munger said. “We need wins. Every game in the Big Ten is gonna be like this. It’s gonna be a grinder. We try to stay hungry and keep attacking each day, try to get a little bit better.

If we do that, at the end of the season we’ll be a lot better than where we started.”