By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 22, 2014
MILWAUKEE — Everything is bigger in Texas.
The Texas men’s basketball team’s frontcourt, for one, is bigger. The Longhorns had Michigan outsized on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
But sharp shooting gave the Wolverines a comfortable lead early, and a late run by Texas wasn’t enough to overcome it as Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 after a 79-65, win — the 700th of Michigan coach John Beilein’s career.
Michigan ran the floor early against a Texas team that has it beat in tonnage. The Longhorns started a 6-foot-9, 285-pound center in Cameron Ridley and complemented it with 240-pound forward in Jonathan Holmes. But the game clock never stopped until the 11:25 mark, which favored Michigan’s fast-paced tempo as they forced Texas’ big men to run the court.
“I think we got a little bit gassed because we’re not used to playing that (pace),” Holmes said. “We were playing our tempo. We’re used to that.”
Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas knocked down a signature 3-pointer from the top of the arc to put the Wolverines on the board first. He would hit two more shots from the perimeter in the half before he finished with a team-high 22 points. Sophomore guard Caris LeVert chipped in with a quiet 11 points in the first frame, on 4-for-8 shooting from the field.
“It helps me get going (when I hit my first shot),” Stauskas said. “But at the same time, I think the rest of the team feeds of it when we hit out first shot. Coach had a good play for me to come off a ball screen and I was trying to be aggressive, and my shot was there.”
Michigan went on a 14-2 run midway through the frame to turn a six-point lead into a 30-12 lead with just more than seven minutes left. Dunks by sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan — Robinson’s on an alley-oop pass from Stauskas — helped close out the half with a comfortable 53-43 lead.
Texas is used to cashing in at the charity stripe — averaging 26 free-throw attempts per game — but Michigan limited it to just 16 chances in the contest. The Wolverines didn’t commit a foul until 16 minutes into the game.
In the second half, the Longhorns moved to a 2-3-zone defense in an attempt to stymie the Wolverine offense. But freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. opened the frame with two treys.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said the strategy was to make Michigan play inside the three-point line and he would’ve gone to it sooner had he not wanted to stick with the man-to-man defense they’ve played most of the year.
On the other end of the floor, Texas started turning offensive rebounds into second-chance buckets — it grabbed 21 offensive boards and converted them into 19 second-chance points. It could have been worse, though, had it not been for a stellar effort by Morgan to limit the Longhorns’ opportunities in the paint. Ridley and Holmes combined for just 15 points despite totaling 18 of Texas’ 41 total rebounds.
“Somebody like (Ridley), he’s got so much size,” Morgan said. “You can’t let him get that close to the basket. So we wanted to make all his post touches away from the basket as much as possible, make him have to dribble and really, really be aggressive with double-teams.
Added Beilein: “As we went through our pregame routine of two days, we were very concerned about Ridley. … And (Morgan) just said, “I got him, coach, don’t worry. I got him.’ ”
An 8-0 Texas run cut the deficit to 10 with 12 minutes to play. But after a Michigan timeout, Stauskas hit another three to comfort the lead.
But the Longhorns didn’t let up. They got within six points after guard Isaiah Taylor — who tied a game-high 22 points — knocked down a jump shot with eight minutes left. But it was too little, too late for Texas.
The Longhors weren’t able to hold off Michigan’s offensive distribution, one that saw four plays reach double digits with Robinson, Morgan and LeVert scoring 14, 15 and 14, respectively.
Robinson, LeVert and sophomore guard Spike Albrecht hit 3-pointers late in the game to pad the lead and the Wolverines hit eight free throws in the final three minutes to seal the deal and guarantee them a Sweet 16 matchup between the winner of Tennessee and Mercer.