CHICAGO – Michigan and Minnesota put on an absolutely stunning, awe-inspiring, record-breaking performance.
But neither team is likely to frame this particular stat sheet, the one that explains the Wolverines’ 49-40 win over the Golden Gophers.
Records of futility were everywhere.
Minnesota’s 40-point total is the lowest ever in a Big Ten Tournament game, while the 49 points that Michigan managed were the lowest winning total in Tournament history.
Simple math dictates that the 89 points the two teams combined for were therefore the lowest cumulative total ever recorded in the conference tournament.
“I think (the reason for the offensive struggles is that) it’s the first game with new rims and in a new gym,” senior Dion Harris said. “It’s the first time you have a chance to play, and you don’t really have a chance to practice and shoot around on the court.”
Harris led the Wolverines with 14 points, but shot just 3-of-10 from the field, with many of his points coming from the free-throw line. Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson scored a game-high 15 points, and he was the lone starter on either team to convert on more than 50 percent of his field goal attempts.
Senior Lester Abram continued his late-season spiral with one of his worst games yet. The Michigan captain fouled out late in the game, finishing 1-of-10 from the field for just three points in 30 minutes. His best moment came with almost three minutes gone in the first half when he converted a layup while being fouled to open the scoring for both teams.
But after sinking the ensuing free throw, Abram and his teammates struggled the rest of the half. They finished the opening stanza still leading 20-16, but their 20 points were the least that Michigan has ever scored in a half of a conference tournament game.
The one bright spot for Michigan in the period was the play of freshman forward DeShawn Sims. The Detroit native had been a disappointment throughout the season, but had his best game yesterday. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes. During one stretch in the middle of the first half, he scored five straight points to tie the game at 12.
Asked about his newfound effectiveness, Sims answered simply.
“Not pressing so much,” Sims said. “For 30-some games in the season, I pressed a lot. Being a highly recruited high school player, you come in with the pressure on, trying to get to the NBA and hurry up and do things. I think that was my mentality, hurrying up and getting out of college.”
Sims wasn’t pressing, but both teams were definitely pressed for points. Michigan coach Tommy Amaker stressed to his team that whichever team made a scoring run in the second half would be in good position to win the game.
The Wolverines listened, opening the second stanza with a relative scoring spree, going for 15 points in just five minutes and opening up a 14-point lead. That margin was enough to carry Michigan through what ended up being a pathetic offensive performance.
After the run, the Wolverines made just 2-of-19 shots from the field, leading to a 24-percent shooting period. It was Michigan’s worst-ever shooting half in the Big Ten Tournament, and contributed to another team-worst for the Big Ten Tournament (shooting percentage for the game: 27 percent).
“A win is a win to me,” senior Courtney Sims said. “I’ll take it. It’s Tournament time; we’re trying to win a championship, so I don’t care how we get it. I don’t care if (the score is) 1-0, as long as we get a win in the Tournament, it’s good.”
Michigan faces No. 1 Ohio State at the United Center at noon today in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
A win over the Buckeyes might sway the NCAA Selection Committee in the Wolverines’ favor, and Courtney Sims and the Wolverines are fully aware:
“Winning against the No. 1 team in the country, I think that would basically put us in for sure.”