With a little less than 13 minutes remaining in the opening round of the Preseason NIT, Michigan and Binghamton — a team that lost to Division II St. Rose in an exhibition game just 12 days ago — were tied at 39. Junior guard Daniel Horton brought the ball up the court after a Bearcats miss and saw sophomore Brent Petway ahead of the play, curling towards the basket.
“I (saw) it was open, and Daniel always sees it when it’s open,” Petway said. “So he just throws it up there and made a great pass, and he made it easy on me.”
Petway’s alley-oop invigorated the previously quiet Crisler Arena crowd, giving Michigan its first lead at 41-39 since a Horton 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the first half.
Petway’s energy resonated for Michigan, as it relied on efficient defense down the stretch to secure a 59-46 victory over the Bearcats in its first game of the season.
“The way we played (defense) in the second half is how we want to play the whole season,” Horton said. “It can even get better.”
After 32 first-half points, Binghamton scored just 14 in the second half on 4-of-26 shooting.
“I was very pleased with the second-half performance of our team, in terms of our defensive effort,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought (Binghamton) got a little tired and missed some shots that they ordinarily would have made. And I thought that was one of the factors of us being able to wear them down a little bit.”
The Bearcats were stymied by the Wolverines’s varying pressure defense in the second half. Michigan was able to cut off Binghamton’s screens and force the Bearcats into sloppy perimeter shots. Possibly the Wolverines’ biggest ally in the game, however, was the abundance of fouls called by the referees. Binghamton 7-footer Nick Billings — a legitimate NBA draft prospect — played just seven minutes, attempted just one shot and did not score. Billings racked up two first-half fouls, which kept him off the floor for 16 minutes before halftime. Then he committed two more violations within the first minute of the second half.
A teammate of Billings at Binghamton, current Wolverine Dani Wohl transferred from the school to attend Michigan before last season. Wohl was surprised at how well Michigan was able to shut down the 2003 America East Defensive Player of the Year.
“I wouldn’t have guessed it,” Wohl said. “That’s really crazy. I’ve never seen Nick score zero points.”
Even though Billings was a non-factor, the Wolverines had trouble adjusting to the inside-outside game of backup center Joe White early on. White scored eight points during a first half run and hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Bearcats an early 22-12 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half. Michigan was unable to get the ball into the post effectively, and Dion Harris and Lester Abram — who shot a combined 1-for-9 in the first half — could not find an early rhythm.
But it was Horton who kept the Wolverines in the game offensively, despite turning the ball over six times in the opening period.
“(The turnovers) were very uncharacteristic of him thus far this year,” Amaker said. “But I thought Daniel was the reason why we had any spirit and life in the first half. He was the catalyst for us not to keep our heads down.”
Horton connected on three trifectas in the first half, and helped cut Binghamton’s lead to four, 32-28, by halftime.
Michigan was able to build upon its defensive stops early in the second period with a 21-2 run paced by the play of Harris. The sophomore scored 14 of his 16 points in the final half while Horton — who picked up three quick fouls early in the second half— sat on the bench.
“Especially with Daniel in foul trouble, Dion obviously was our leader out on the floor and really led us to different areas,” Amaker said. “He hit big shots for us late.”
With the victory, the Wolverines advance to the second round of the Preseason NIT, and will host Colorado on Wednesday night at Crisler Arena.