MINNEAPOLIS — With 11:20 left in the second half, Michigan’s quest to end the regular season with a bang at Minnesota looked bleak. Then redshirt freshman Laval Lucas-Perry hit a 3-pointer from the corner out of a timeout.
The guard, who has scored in double-digits just once since Jan. 7, played the role of Superman Saturday, lifting Michigan to a win in its most important game of the season, 67-64.
In the eyes of many college basketball analysts around the country, this matchup of NCAA Tournament bubble teams was an elimination game. The winner would almost certainly find itself dancing, while the loser would have to go far in the Big Ten Tournament to have a chance at a bid on March 15, Selection Sunday.
The odds were against the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 19-12 overall), who had just two road wins heading into the game. In Michigan’s 74-62 win against the Golden Gophers (9-9, 21-9) on Feb. 19, the Wolverines shot 13-28 from behind the arc. But to repeat that output on the road didn’t seem likely, especially with Minnesota’s raised court.
The unique nature of the floor took some adjusting. To start the game, Michigan coach John Beilein sat on a stool at the end of the bench so he didn’t obstruct his team’s views, guard David Merritt army-crawled to the scorer’s table and C.J Lee fell off the court after committing a turnover.
Even on Senior Day, where Minnesota played seniors who often don’t play much, Michigan came out cold. In fact, the Wolverines didn’t crack the double-digit mark until mid-way through the first half.
Lucas-Perry’s play was a long time coming, according to sophomore Manny Harris. His three consecutive 3-pointers turned the game around. Up until that point, almost every time Michigan scored, Minnesota would respond.
The freshman has struggled all season with consistency, but he picked a good day to show up.
“That was a huge difference,” Beilein said.
After an ugly first half, Michigan was down just three at the half. But a quick 10-3 Minnesota run to start the second half looked like the end for Michigan. In fact, under Tubby Smith the Golden Gophers were 33-1 after leading at the half. But Michigan regained its poise, executed down the stretch, and found a way to win.
“We’ve gotten tougher mentally as they year has gone on.”