- Todd Needle/Daily
By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 6, 2013
As the Michigan men’s basketball team was finishing its post-game celebration after Tuesday’s 76-74 overtime win over Ohio State, Tim Hardaway Jr. led the team towards the Maize Rage.
The players high-fived the students in the sold-out crowd at the Crisler Center on their way to the locker room, but the junior guard stayed a while longer to soak in the atmosphere of a crowd that, as he later said, “uplifted (them) throughout the entire game.”
But it really felt like Hardaway’s energy that pumped up the crowd as he took the game into his own hands when the third-ranked Wolverines needed some momentum.
Down by five points midway through the second stanza in Tuesday’s primetime matchup against Ohio State, the junior guard went on a run of his own.
Hardaway hit four consecutive 3-pointers to give Michigan a 52-50 lead, but more importantly, he brought the crowd back to life after the Buckeyes had extended their halftime lead to eight points.
“It was crucial,” said freshman forward Mitch McGary. “(Hardaway) came out shooting well, and in the second half he had that spark with (four) in a row — he kept us in the game. I didn’t really think about it (at the time), but sometimes (they) would go on little runs and Tim would come back with a (3-pointer) right then.”
To McGary, it seemed as if Hardaway would make a key shot to shift the momentum in the Wolverines’ favor, and Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game that Hardaway was “terrific.” And once Hardaway got the hot hand, the coaches gave him the go-ahead on offense. The junior finished with a game-high 23 points while shooting an impressive 50 percent from the floor, including a scorching 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.
Aside from his 12 consecutive points, Hardaway sealed the victory for the Wolverines with a block of Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in the final seconds of overtime.
“It was just a reaction,” Hardaway said. “He had the ball up, I thought he was going to shoot it. We were up two, I was trying to get the block or force him to the free-throw line to tie it at the line, and I just didn’t want to give it up.”
Hardaway’s performance on Tuesday is just one of many instances of the junior stepping up in big games this season. Unlike last year, where Hardaway would go on mini-slumps, this year, he’s come up big in clutch situations.
First, it was the Preseason NIT Tip-off at Madison Square Garden. The Miami, Fla. native was the MVP of the tournament as he combined for 39 points over two games in New York. Then it was in Brooklyn, where Hardaway scored 25 points in Michigan’s drubbing of West Virginia.
And in the past two games, against then-No. 3 Indiana and No. 10 Ohio State, Hardaway has stepped into a larger offensive role. He had 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting against the Hoosiers, and was a catalyst in the Wolverines’ many runs that helped seal the game against the Buckeyes.
His improvement is not only visible in the energy he brings to the floor, but also in his numbers. This season, the junior is shooting 48 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range. His clip is similar to last season’s — he shot 41 percent in 2011-12 — but Hardaway has improved his shooting from beyond the arc by 15 percent.
Hardaway credits most of this improvement to “trying to do the best (he) can to help the team,” but Beilein has noticed significant improvement between his sophomore and junior campaigns.
“We’ve been seeing (Tim) evolve since the summertime,” Beilein said. “He’s done a lot of work on his own and worked with different members of our staff, (and we) know that he can lead us both with his actions and how he presents himself to his teammates.”