AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Eventually, it was obvious. Sophomore guard Trey Burke just wasn’t going to have his typical offensive game Thursday against South Dakota State. Without a little help from someone else, the Michigan men’s basketball team was destined for another first-round upset and a short trip home from the Palace of Auburn Hills.
As the only starter with multiple years of NCAA Tournament experience under his belt, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. stepped to center stage, and it was Hardaway who single-handedly kept the Jackrabbits at bay in the first half.
Midway through the half, South Dakota State had grabbed a 13-7 lead. Then something clicked for Hardaway. With South Dakota State’s point guard Nate Wolters effectively shutting down Burke from scoring opportunities, the wings opened up. And, after missing his first two shots early in the game, Hardaway found his stroke and gained a confidence that never disappeared.
Hardaway scored three of Michigan’s next five buckets to key an 11-3 run for the fourth-seeded Wolverines.
“When Trey missed a few shots, we didn’t have many answers at first,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Tim came back and hit two huge threes, deep, guarded threes and it seemed to turn everything at that point.”
Of Hardaway’s 21 total points — he tied with freshman forward Glenn Robinson III for a game high — 15 came from beyond the arc for a 71-percent clip, and he went 4-for-5 from deep in the first half.
When Hardaway got hot, the rest of the team seemed to follow suit. Robinson and freshman guard Nik Stauskas each made crucial shots during the game. Robinson took over in the second half — 17 of his 21 points came in the final 20 minutes — but Hardaway’s hot hand didn’t disappear, either.
Each time the Wolverines went on a run to extend their lead in the second half, Hardaway would cap it off with a 3-pointer, bringing the crowd to its feet.
“We see this in practice more than we see it in games, and Tim’s always played with a lot of confidence, looking for scoring opportunities,” Beilein said.
Added Stauskas: “This is huge for (his) confidence. Anytime you can see the ball go in multiple times, that’s great.”
Hardaway isn’t Michigan’s best 3-point shooter, and he’s been streaky from deep at times this season, but on a night where he’d go 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, Hardaway could do no wrong.
As one of three players in the main rotation to return after being shocked by Ohio in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Hardaway understands the pressures of a first-round game. And like he was been able to do in New York this season, Hardaway’s confidence shined through on the big stage.
Hardaway credits his familiarity with the arena — the Wolverines played at the Palace of Auburn Hills in a game against Oakland last season — for his big performance on Thursday.
“Just coming in earlier today when myself, Nik and (freshman guard) Caris LeVert and some of our bigs just come in here and get extra reps out and just getting a feel for the environment” helped Hardaway get comfortable, he said. “We played here before last year so we kind of know what to expect out of the court and out of the rim. It felt good.”
Hardaway, and the entire Michigan squad, hopes that confidence won’t falter.