With just under three minutes left in last night’s game, Colorado was charging at the Wolverines with a tenacity not befitting a team that had been down by double digits since the opening of the first half. Now within eight, the Buffaloes blocked shots in the paint, double- and triple-teamed Michigan’s big men and stuck to the guards in the backcourt. For a moment, the Wolverines looked concerned.
But just for a moment.
After Colorado turned the ball over on a simple inbounds play, Michigan junior tri-captain Lester Abram capitalized by lobbing the ball to sophomore Brent Petway on the other side of the court. Petway threw down an incendiary dunk that both ignited the crowd and boosted the Wolverines’ advantage back to a more comfortable double-digit status on the way to Michigan’s 69-60 win over Colorado in the second round of the Preseason NIT Tournament.
“They were just not quitting,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I was very impressed with that.”
The highlight of the Michigan stat sheet last night was undoubtedly guard Dion Harris’s career-high 24 points, which he capped off with a pair of free throws in the waning seconds of the game. Harris went 7-for-7 on free throws and shot dynamically from the floor, with nine points coming from three-pointers and several others off of jump shots.
“Coach talked to me,” Harris said. “He just wanted me to be a really confident player this year, and just more aggressive. So I think that’s what I’m trying to do — and I think it started tonight.”
Michigan sophomore Courtney Sims struggled against Colorado’s overbearing defense under the rim. His efforts earned him a double-double — 10 points and 10 rebounds — but the 6-foot-11 forward made just five of his 16 attempted field goals on the evening, due largely to Buffalo Julius Ashby’s six blocks, which tied Colorado’s single-game record for blocks in a road game.
But when a free throw from Colorado’s Marcus Hall and a basket from outside the arc by Richard Roby brought the Buffaloes back within striking distance, they coughed it up again on another avoidable inbounds error. Junior Daniel Horton snatched the ball, and blew across half court for a layup.
He missed, but Sims was right behind him. Sims grabbed the rebound, and threw down a put-back dunk.
“(What was good was) Courtney not standing back and watching one of his teammates going for what he thinks is going to be a made layup,” Amaker said. “He followed up — and he was the only one on the floor who did it. It showed a lot of hustle.”
Despite Harris’s big night, and the Wolverines’s 15-for-18 free-throw shooting, Michigan once again had difficulty stringing two quality halves together. Although it shot out of the blocks with a 24-8 run and held Colorado to 29-percent shooting in the first half, the Buffaloes outscored Michigan in the second half.
“I wish we would have protected our lead better,” Amaker said. “We were disappointed with that. And we turned some over late, and we got nervous a bit — we got riled at the end. So that’s something to work on for us.”
Another low point for Michigan came in the final minutes, when junior tri-captain Graham Brown was elbowed in the face, and had to leave the court. His status remains unknown. Amaker said that he may need stitches and might have had a concussion.