By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 17, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS — Just six minutes into the first half, Minnesota’s primary ball handler, Andre Hollins, picked up his second foul and headed to the bench. Almost immediately, the Golden Gophers began to cough up the ball.
Michigan took those freebies and had no issue pushing the ball up the court to finish its possessions in an emphatic dunk or a Tim Hardaway Jr. 3-pointer.
Ten first-half turnovers for No. 9 Minnesota (3-2 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) led to 22 fast-break points for the Wolverines in their 83-75 victory over the Golden Gophers, a facet of their game that was almost absent in Sunday’s road loss to Ohio State.
“I think it was important for us to get out in transition,” said sophomore guard Trey Burke. “We knew in the first half against Ohio State, we were kind of too stagnant, we played too much half-court offense. When we get out in transition, it allows us to open the game up (and) it allows us to go on runs. We have a lot of players that can run the court, and it’s important for us to do that.”
But Michigan’s transition game tapered off in the second half and the Golden Gophers crept back in the game. Despite good shooting and scoring 24 points off turnovers, the Wolverines — who led by as many as 19 in the second half — slowed down its offense and let Minnesota execute its defense and rebound effectively to make Thursday’s top-ten showdown a close game in “The Barn.”
The way the Wolverines (4-1, 17-1) played Thursday night against another ranked conference opponent — confident and poised — was a complete turnaround to how it fared against the Buckeyes, and was exactly what Michigan coach John Beilein wanted to see from his team in yet another hostile environment.
“Winning road games in this league (is important),” Beilein said. “In the past, there were maybe three ranked teams, maybe four. With Wisconsin’s win (over Indiana on Tuesday), you’re going to have seven ranked teams very soon."
“There’s seven games you have to win against ranked teams on the road. That doesn’t happen very often. So as a result, when you get them, they’re really important (to win) if you’re going to stay on the top of the (Big Ten) standings.”
But at the beginning of the game, the Wolverines didn’t look like they were playing to earn a statement conference win on the road. Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe fired up the crowd early with two consecutive blocks on redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan. In response, Hardaway Jr. and Burke sparked the perimeter offense for Michigan.
Hardaway, who had a similar performance his freshman year in Minnesota, tallied 17 first-half points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc, on 6-of-7 shooting. He was often found open on the wing, and the extra passes by Burke or freshman guard Nik Stauskas found Hardaway open for the bucket. Hardaway cooled off in the second half, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Burke also took control of the game early, shedding his defender to be able to penetrate and kick out, something he wasn’t able to do against Aaron Craft and Ohio State. The sophomore point guard — wearing No. 12 after his usual No. 3 was ripped early in the game — dished out nine assists and added 18 points while playing basically an error-free game against a tough Minnesota defense.
And though Hardaway, Burke, and the rest of the guards accounted for 57 points, Mbakwe wasn’t able to silence Morgan and the forwards for the entire game. After Morgan was stuffed in the paint early, freshman forward Mitch McGary entered the game and let his presence be felt.
The 6-foot-10 big man was able to keep pace with Mbakwe, tallying eight points and even had three steals. Morgan reestablished himself in the second half and finished with nine points, four rebounds and a ripped jersey, and both big men were able to overcome the physicality of the post to help out in the win.
“Guys were out there, we were out there in the war, we had to stick it out in the second half,” Burke said.
Added Hardaway: “It’s Big Ten season, everybody’s going to be physical, everybody’s trying to win.”
Thursday’s win was Michigan’s first win against a top-10 team on the road since 1996, but Beilein doesn’t think getting any more road wins will be easier, especially with the competitiveness of the conference.
“If you look at this season, right now, we’re going to have to do that — something out of the ordinary — to be in the Big Ten hunt. Anybody in this league is going to have to do that to be in the Big Ten hunt,” he said.