It was a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions, with Minnesota floating on the NCAA Tournament bubble and the Michigan men’s basketball team just hopeful for a good run in the Big Ten Tournament. It seemed that the Wolverines were primed for another disappointment in a lackluster season.
But instead, it was Michigan that came out on top, blowing out Minnesota 83-55 in its most consistent effort of the season.
The Wolverines pulled ahead, largely on a first-half surge led by senior forward DeShawn Sims and junior guard Manny Harris.
After going back and forth with the Golden Gophers for the first 12 minutes with the Wolverines leading 20-18, Harris and Sims then took over.
Harris got the ball at the baseline, but instead of popping for a premature three, he drove down the baseline, hit a layup and drew the foul, giving Michigan a five-point lead. He then came back on Michigan’s next two possessions to make two consecutive shots, one a three and the other a layup assisted by freshman guard Darius Morris, extending the Wolverines’ lead to eight.
With the Wolverines up 28-20, Harris drove the ball up court to the top of the key with Sims cutting open to the paint. Harris then fired a pass to Sims that hit him in the chest and the senior converted for an alley-oop.
It was the highlight of one of Michigan’s best halves this season, during which the Wolverines scored 43 points off 55.2 percent shooting from the floor and 46.7 percent from behind the arc.
While Minnesota nearly matched them, shooting 50 percent in the first half, it was the turnover differential that gave Michigan a 43-29 lead at halftime.
“The game flowed so well and smooth for the Wolverines today,” Sims said. “We did a great job of passing the ball to each other and hitting open shots and getting everybody involved, and it went smooth.”
But right before the half, the Wolverines had one more spectacular play in store. With just six seconds left, Morris got the ball and dribbled up court under full-court pressure. With just two seconds left, he found Sims wide open under the basket for a layup that ended the half.
Harris finished the game with 22 points and Sims scored 23 in his final regular-season game at Crisler Arena. All three of Michigan’s seniors — Sims and forwards Zack Gibson and Anthony Wright — were presented with commemorative Michigan jerseys to honor their four years of accomplishments in the maize and blue.
While the game didn’t mean much to Michigan (7-10 Big Ten, 14-15 overall), whose legitimate postseason aspirations are on life support, it really hurt Minnesota (8-9, 17-12) which is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament with just one game remaining.
Overall, it was Michigan’s best shooting night of the season. The Wolverines shot 60.4 percent from the floor in the contest and hit 7-of-15 from 3-point range. Even more impressive was the Wolverines’ assist-to-turnover ratio, with 21 assists to just four turnovers.
“Isn’t that unbelievable, have you ever seen that one?” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I haven’t seen that one before, the 20s with less than five, I haven’t seen that one I don’t think. Especially against a team that forces 12 to 13 a game.”
Conventional wisdom suggested that Michigan’s shooting would cool down in the second half, the Wolverines actually seemed to kick it up a notch and shot 67 percent.
“We knew we had to keep going and extend our lead,” sophomore guard Stu Douglass said. “We kept talking about that in the huddle, and players kept talking about extending our lead don’t get satisfied and we did that up to the second half and all the way through.”
Even when the Golden Gophers were successful in shutting down the Wolverines’ offense, Michigan still had luck on its side.
With six minutes left in the second half, Douglass took possession of the ball and struggled with Minnesota’s full-court trap, nearly losing the ball at half court with six seconds left on the shot clock.
But instead of panicking, the sophomore dribbled to just inside the arc and hit a floater just as the shot clock expired, putting Michigan up 71-47.
In the end, it was the consistent effort that the Wolverines have been searching for all season, but comes a bit too late with just one game left against Michigan State in East Lansing on Sunday.
But for Michigan’s seniors, it ends their memories of Crisler Arena on a positive note.
“It just feels good, you can’t worry about the past,” Sims said. “Sometimes my mind kind of drifts off into where that type of performance has been. But hopefully we get the same kind of effort in East Lansing on Sunday.”