NEW YORK — Last September, before an appeal of a second
year of postseason sanctions was accepted, the Michigan basketball
team thought it was one year away from having any opportunity of
playing postseason basketball. Now, it stands just one win away
from a banner.

Michigan dominated Oregon 78-53 in the semifinals of the NIT
last night at Madison Square Garden by playing one of its most
complete games of the season. The Wolverines will now compete for
their first recognized championship since 1989, when they won the
national title. They forfeited their 1997 NIT championship and
other titles after following NCAA sanctions regarding program
violations in the mid-1990s. After winning an appeal with the NCAA
last fall, the team was allowed to compete this postseason.

“It’s big for us,” senior forward Bernard
Robinson said. “I think making it to the championship game
speaks volumes for our team and the success that we have been able
to accomplish.”

The Wolverines took control in the first half thanks to
excellent interior defense and outside shooting. The Ducks could
not get anything going on offense inside the 3-point line from
anyone other than second-team All-American forward Luke Jackson.
Outside of Jackson, the only significant opportunities Oregon could
muster came off the fast break. The Wolverines forced 16 Oregon
turnovers leading to 28 points, and held the Ducks to 34.5 percent
from the field.

“I think we played tremendous half-court defense
today,” Robinson said. “We knew how important it was to
defend the 3-point line, so I think we were getting them off that,
and our big men were helping us.”

Jackson scored seven consecutive points to give Oregon a 17-15
lead in the first half, but that would be the last lead the Ducks
would hold. Michigan would then go on a 24-7 run that included six
3-pointers. The Wolverines were able to get open shots by moving
the ball around the perimeter and getting the ball inside. Michigan
shot 8-for-12 from behind the arc in the first half. It shot 52.7
percent from the field for the game.

“The ball movement was great,” said sophomore guard
Daniel Horton, who led the Wolverines with nine assists.
“We’ve been playing really unselfish, and guys were
getting open looks. That’s something that we weren’t
doing at the beginning of the season.”

Oregon stayed within striking distance for a while, but let the
game slip away in the second half. The Ducks got within 15 after
Jackson scored a layup off a 3-on-1 fast break. But the Wolverines
came right back with another run. Sophomore center Chris Hunter
rebounded his own miss from the free-throw line to catapult a 7-0
run with two consecutive layups followed by steals. Oregon never
got closer than 19 after that point.

After a Big Ten season that had numerous disappointments, the
young Wolverines have gained momentum at the end of the season. The
NIT run and the fact that the Wolverines are losing just one player
in the rotation to graduation bode very well for next season.
Michigan won the 1984 NIT, and then went on to win Big Ten titles
in 1985 and 1986.

“We finally put it together,” Horton said.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re finally getting
to the point where we’re getting better every day and
we’re giving it our all on the defensive end.”

Michigan (22-11) will play Rutgers (20-21) in the championship
game at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The Scarlet Knights defeated Iowa State
84-81 in overtime in front of thousands of fans who rode the train
into Penn Station from New Jersey.

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