The grave was dug for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
The Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament chances looked buried after failing to get a much-needed win at Michigan State on Tuesday.
But the Maize and Blue kept the shovels in the shed for at least one more game, beating No. 24 Indiana 58-55 at Crisler Arena on Saturday.
It was Michigan’s first win over a ranked team this season and snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Hoosiers.
“Everyone was saying we don’t have a signature win, so now with a win like this, this late in the season, they can finally stop saying that,” senior Brent Petway said.
But the victory wasn’t easy. The Wolverines nearly fumbled their golden opportunity late in the game.
Michigan entered the final minute with what appeared to be a secure 56-51 lead. Then, senior Lester Abram committed a silly foul before Indiana even inbounded the ball, which allowed Hoosier forward Mike White to sink both free throws.
On the Wolverines’ ensuing possession, sophomore Jerret Smith threw an errant pass in the direction of senior Dion Harris that went directly into the hands of Indiana guard Errek Suhr. He came down the floor and fed White for a layup to cut Michigan’s lead to one.
Smith redeemed himself by sinking two free throws to put the Wolverines back up three. It still left Indiana with more than 16 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Earlier in the season, Michigan (6-6 Big Ten, 18-9 overall) probably would have folded under the pressure of a potential blown lead, but this time around, the teams’ veterans showed their will and determination.
On their final possession, the Hoosiers didn’t get a clean look at the basket thanks to Michigan’s stingy defense and were forced to attempt a desperation heave as time expired.
“I was glad to see that when things didn’t go exactly how we planned, we were able to still stick in there and get right back on track,” Petway said.
It was clear from the start that Michigan coach Tommy Amaker knew his team needed a kickstart after scoring just 44 points in Tuesday’s loss to the Spartans. The Wolverines trotted out a new starting lineup on Saturday, with Smith and freshman Ekpe Udoh inserted in place of junior Ron Coleman and senior Courtney Sims. Michigan surged to an early 11-2 lead thanks to the change.
But after the Wolverines’ initial jolt, the Hoosiers (7-5, 17-8) charged back, embarking on their own 9-2 run. It cut the Wolverines’ lead to just two heading into the second media timeout.
From there the game turned into an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest, with both teams unable to muster much on the offensive end. Michigan shot just 38 percent from the field in the first half, but Indiana’s accuracy was even worse.
The Hoosiers made just seven field goals the entire stanza, allowing the Wolverines to open up a 25-18 lead at halftime.
Indiana, known for its 3-point shooting prowess, attempted 21 trifectas, hitting on just six of them over the course of the game. Michigan shot more than 57 percent from beyond the arc, with Harris knocking down four en route to his game-high 16 points. Sims responded positively to coming off the bench, scoring 13 points – 11 in the second half.
Part of Indiana’s woes were due to the absence of point guard Earl Calloway, who dressed for the game but did not play due to a shoulder injury.
“There’s no question they are different (without Calloway),” Amaker said. “Calloway is very tough with the ball, and he can penetrate. I think they would have been in much better rhythm had he been on the floor.”
Indiana junior D.J. White, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, was also held in check. After dominating the paint in the Hoosiers’ 76-61 win over the Wolverines earlier in the season, White had just seven points and four rebounds on Saturday. He was saddled with foul trouble for a large portion of the second half.
After the game, Michigan players reflected on just how important this win could prove to be, knowing that a loss would have been the nail in the coffin for its still-slim NCAA Tournament chances.
“In order to get where we want to go, we had to come and get (a win) in this game,” Harris said. “If we hadn’t have gotten it, I don’t know what our mindset would have been. I don’t know how we would have taken it if we had lost.”