Binghamton surprised almost everyone in Crisler Arena last night when it jumped out to as much as a 12-point lead over Michigan in the first half. The Wolverines were down 29-17 at the four-minute media timeout, and they were showing no signs of a productive offense. But the Bearcats gave Michigan its chances to get back in the game, and the Wolverines cashed in on those chances — exactly 91.3 percent of them.
Michigan made 21-of-23 from the free throw line in its 59-46 victory. Five Wolverines were perfect from the charity stripe on a night when free throws kept the Wolverines in the game and buried the Bearcats in an ugly second half.
“We were tremendous from the line tonight, and that was a big weapon for us because we certainly struggled offensively in the first half,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Free throws allowed us to make a game of it in the first half when they jumped out and got a double-digit lead on us.”
Binghamton led 32-28 at the half, but it could have been much worse had the Wolverines not shot 10-for-11 from the stripe. For a team that shot just under 70 percent from the line last year, that improvement is the difference between going into halftime down four — but with momentum — or going in down seven or eight, wondering how a team from the America East Conference could jump out of the gates so fast.
The Wolverines took that momentum and carried it into the second half. They kept getting to the line, and the Bearcats paid for it.
Just 19 seconds into the second half, Binghamton’s 7-foot center, Nick Billings, collected his third foul of the game. Thirty-seven seconds later, he picked up a fourth.
“We tried to get some early fouls on (Billings) so we could keep him off the floor,” junior tri-captain Graham Brown said. “Our guys did a great job with that. He came in with a lot of energy. We knew he was a shot blocker, and we tried to use that against him.”
Then, with 17:09 remaining, forward Alex Adediran, Binghamton’s third-leading scorer, was tagged with a fourth personal foul.
Neither Adediran nor Billings made an impact for the remainder of the game. Billings came in later, only to foul out after two more minutes of play. He finished the night with no points, two rebounds and five fouls in just seven minutes of play.
“We were just playing our game,” sophomore center Courtney Sims said. “Fortunately, we got a couple of calls our way. It just went that way. Some days it happens to me, so I know how (Billings) feels.”
The Bearcats committed 22 personal fouls, leading to the 23 trips to the line for Michigan.
“We spend a lot of time shooting free throws,” sophomore Dion Harris said. “It’s kind of contagious. Once one guy goes up there and knocks free throws down, I think that gives the rest of us motivation to go up there and knock ours down.”