NEW YORK — Michigan was ahead 41-29 in the second half
when it started.

Chris Burke

Rutgers’s Ricky Shields hit a 3-pointer. Then, Juel Wiggan
scored off an offensive rebound. Herve Lamizana nailed a jumper,
and Shields did the same. In the blink of an eye, Michigan was down
44-43 and pro-Rutgers Madison Square Garden was alive.

Suddenly, every Michigan fan in the place was stuck in flashback
mode, their mind wandering to losses at Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa,
Minnesota and Indiana — games where the Wolverines played so
well for so long, only to collapse in the waning moments.

But last night, something strange happened: Michigan
didn’t fold.

Instead, the Wolverines tightened up their defense and
rediscovered their confidence on offense. A layup by Michigan
center Courtney Sims put the Wolverines ahead with 4:55 left, and
five minutes later, the Wolverines found themselves with something
that had too often eluded them in regular-season road games.

Victory.

Don’t kid yourself — Michigan would not have won
this game earlier this year. No way.

The NIT version of the Michigan basketball team, though, was
different than the regular-season version. After the win, senior
Bernard Robinson said that Michigan had been capable of a
performance like last night’s all year.

And therein lies the difference: Regular-season Michigan
couldn’t get it done. Postseason Michigan played up to its
potential.

Regular-season Michigan would have imploded had it turned the
ball over four times in four minutes, as the Wolverines did last
night during Rutgers’s run.

But postseason Michigan found a way to get the job done —
be it Dion Harris nailing a 3-pointer with all the Rutgers fans on
their feet, or Daniel Horton racing back on defense after a
turnover to get the Wolverines the possession back with a
steal.

The mantra all season for this baby-faced Michigan squad was
that it takes young teams a long time to learn how to win.

Well, consider the lesson learned.

“As a coach and as a teacher, when you see your players
and your students get better at the things that you’ve been
coaching and preaching and teaching, there’s nothing
better,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.

And the result of that knowledge spoke for itself last
night.

Victory.

It’s a word that hasn’t accompanied the end of a
Michigan attempt.

In total, Lamizana finished just two blocks shy of a
triple-double — he had 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight
rejections. On the offensive end, the Ivory Coast native repeatedly
faked jump shots along the perimeter to gain a step on
Michigan’s defenders and get into the paint for a shot.

Michigan did manage to shut down Quincy Douby, the Scarlet
Knights’ leading scorer on Tuesday. The 6-foot-3 guard had 35
against Iowa State in the semifinals, but found few good looks all
night against the Wolverines, shooting a dismal 1-for-13. He
finally located the bottom of the net four minutes into the second
half on a runner from the baseline to cut Michigan’s lead to
41-31. The freshman finished with just two points.

“I knew they were going to focus on me,” Douby said.
“I know they watched film and they’ve seen some of my
weaknesses, and they (exploited) my weaknesses.”

The New York crowd was largely behind Rutgers, located in nearby
New Jersey, creating a hostile road environment for the Wolverines.
At points, it seemed to rattle Michigan, but the team found a way
to remain level-headed.

“We were talking at halftime and throughout the second
half about poise,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I
think the crowd made it a very electric atmosphere. That makes you
play faster than you want to.”

It’s been almost seven months since Michigan won its
appeal to the NCAA, negating its second year of postseason
probation. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament, it looked
like the Wolverines would fail to capitalize on the decision. But
Amaker wasn’t about to let that happen.

“To learn that we became postseason eligible at the
beginning of the year, we tried to make a move this season,”
Amaker said. “And I think our players have done that in a
fine fashion to make our University proud.”

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