Walton’s game-winning layup gives Michigan narrow win

Paul Sherman/Daily
Buy this photo

By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 9, 2014

Road games in Big Ten play have proven to be heart-stoppers.

And for the second straight time, the Michigan men’s basketball team could take heart at the end. After a narrow escape against Minnesota a week ago, the Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) slipped by Nebraska, 71-70, in Lincoln on Thursday night.

Down one point with 25 seconds remaining, freshman point guard Derrick Walton drove the ball around the right side of the perimeter, turned left up the baseline and converted the layup while drawing a foul. He missed the free throw, giving the Cornhuskers (0-3, 8-6) an opportunity to win it.

In a series that was reminiscent of the Wolverines’ devastating loss to Indiana last season, consecutive Nebraska layups rolled off the rim. Mercifully for Michigan, the red lights of the backboard lit up to let the Wolverines know they could finally smile.

“The ball was up and it looked like it had a chance,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters. “The next one had a better chance. We have been on the other end of that last year for a Big Ten Championship on the line. Fortunately, it went our way.”

Thursday night, Jordan Morgan proved himself capable of handling the starting role as Michigan’s big man, and he has Nik Stauskas to thank for it. The fifth-year senior, who has struggled to find consistency with increased minutes since Mitch McGary was ruled out indefinitely, had a teammate to help him find it.

Stauskas, the sophomore guard, has been the Wolverines’s best distributor this season and found Morgan under the basket three times Thursday night for easy baskets. Morgan finished with 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Throughout the night, Morgan set screens and rolled to the basket, only to find himself alone without a Cornhusker to contest his shot.

“He can get things done,” Beilein said. “He just needs to have confidence. We will take it if it is him one night and (redshirt junior forward) Jon (Horford) the other night. Who knows who is going to get this down, but Jordan was really good.”

He wasn’t the only Wolverine to shoot at a high clip. Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III had a game-high 19 points on 75-percent shooting, including a breakaway dunk in the final two minutes to give Michigan a two-point lead. Stauskas added 12 points on nine shots, drilling two 3-pointers and tallying four assists.

Walton’s game-winning play at the end might not have been possible if not for an even more impressive shot to end of the first half. He capped a sluggish period from Michigan with a halfcourt prayer that found the bottom of the net as the clock hit all zeros.

“We were a little bit down because they had just came back and hit a couple of threes,” Robinson said. “After Derrick hit that shot, it amped us up. I thought we had great energy going into halftime.”

Though Michigan shot 57 percent in the half, pace of play was slow and a slew of 3-pointers by Husker guard Ray Gallegos helped to keep the score close. Gallegos, a thorn in the Wolverines’ side the last two years, added another triple in the second half to tie the game with 4:38 left to play.

Nebraska had plenty to play for in the first Big Ten game at the newly opened Pinnacle Bank Arena. Already 0-2 in conference play, a headlining win over the Wolverines would have done wonders for the program.

Terran Petteway, playing in his first season since transferring from Texas Tech, is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring and poured in 16 points Thursday, though he came two short of completing the upset.

“We knew (Petteway) was going to get the ball,” Morgan said. “He just had a downhill mindset, so it was on us to try and stay in front of him without fouling him and putting him on the free throw line and then try and get the rebound. Our guys did a really good job of that.”

With Stauskas guarding him, Petteway caught the ball on the left wing in the game’s final possession. He drove to his right toward the rim, and his attempt at a game winner missed. Leslee Smith’s follow-up also rimmed out, and the Wolverines’s hearts could start beating again.