KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Michigan coach John Beilein entered the locker room following Saturday’s 73-63 second-round loss to Oklahoma, he saw a group of players with heads bowed in disappointment — a group that was taught never to be satisfied with a loss.
He didn’t say much. What he did say was that he was appreciative of their hard work, and that he was proud to be a Michigan man.
But Beilein hasn’t been at Michigan for very long. In his second year in Ann Arbor, he overcame low expectations by bouncing back from a 10-22 season and led the Wolverines to the Big Dance.
Michigan is the fourth school Beilein has led to the NCAA Tournament in his five appearances. He has compiled a 7-5 record in the Tournament.
Richmond is the only Beilein team that reached the Tournament at a faster pace. The Spiders reached the second round in his first season.
But this season might be more impressive. At Richmond, he inherited a senior-laden squad. He came to Ann Arbor to find just one senior and three juniors.
Beilein will be rewarded for his work. He is set to receive a $25,000 bonus for making the tournament — a figure which would have increased to $50,000 if Michigan had knocked off the Sooners.
Athletic Director Bill Martin is more than happy to cough up the money.
“John had to take a program that has been off the charts for two decades almost, and he did it in two years,” Martin said after the game. “I think you’ll just see us in the future continue to improve.”
Crowded: As redshirt freshman center Ben Cronin walked across the court and took his seat in the first row opposite the Michigan bench before Saturday’s game, one inebriated fan awkwardly hugged the 7-footer.
Cronin just smiled.
Cronin, along with walk-on freshman guard Corey Person and head manager Alex Gravlin, were forced to sit in the stands due to NCAA limitations on who can sit on the bench.
Only active players and coaches are allowed to sit on the bench for NCAA Tournament games. Since both players were redshirted, they were forced into the crowd.
For the first time, the players found themselves taking part in the Michigan cheers.
“They were doing some of the cheers and I was like, ‘I always wanted to do this cheer,’ but you can’t be doing a cheer when you’re on the bench,” Person said after Michigan knocked off Clemson on Thursday. “It almost made us closer with the fans because we got to interact with them.”
Asked if he would paint his face for the Oklahoma game, Cronin laughed and said, “I don’t think so. We’re still players.”
Brian Townsend, Michigan director of basketball operations, was also relegated to the stands. Before Michigan’s win against Clemson, fifth-year senior guard David Merritt pointed at Townsend from the bench, reminding the former Wolverine linebacker where he really belonged.
Wrighted: Before the Oklahoma game, Beilein went down the line of players on the bench, giving high-fives and saying “Be ready, be ready.”
Little did he know how early he would have to rely on his reserves.
With two quick fouls less than five minutes into the game, sophomore forward Manny Harris walked to the bench. So did Michigan’s best chance of keeping up with the powerful Sooner offense.
And when junior forward DeShawn Sims took a seat after forward Blake Griffin inadvertently poked him in the eye, the Wolverine attack was even weaker.
As Harris exited the court, redshirt sophomore Anthony Wright walked on. Wright, who came in averaging 2.3 points per game, quickly drained three 3-pointers and Michigan held a three-point lead with just under four minutes left in the half.
“I knew somebody had to step up into that scoring role,” Wright said. “So I got more aggressive.”
Wright tied his season high of 12 points in just 14 first-half minutes.
Beilein admitted it wasn’t his ideal lineup but that Wright, along with junior forward Zach Gibson, filled in well and got the job done.
The Wolverines finished with 19 bench points. The Sooners did not substitute in the second half and had just one point from a bench player.
“We’re not a one-man team,” freshman guard Zach Novak said. “We got guys that stepped up tonight. Anthony stepped up huge.”
He’ll be back: After the loss to Oklahoma, Harris all but said he would not make the jump to the NBA this summer and instead return to play for Michigan.
“I love the college game,” Harris said. “I still have a lot of work to do before I make the jump.”