Crisler Arena was far from sold out for last night’s game
between Michigan and Missouri, but you wouldn’t have known it
from the decibel level.

The 5,507 fans who were present in 13,751-seat Crisler Arena
showed no disappointment that the Wolverines failed to make the
NCAA Tournament, creating a spectacular atmosphere for the
first-round NIT contest.

“That’s the best I’ve ever heard the
crowd,” Michigan senior Bernard Robinson said. “It was
a very big part of our winning the ballgame.”

Senior captain Colin Dill agreed with Robinson: “In my
four years, I’ve never heard our fans like that. That was
great. For a gym that was half-full, to have that kind of noise was
great.”

With just two days between the announcement of the NIT brackets
and last night’s game, the Michigan Athletic Department
released all tickets at a discounted price. The result was a lower
bowl unusually full of students.

“I thought our students led the way and we’re very
grateful for that,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
“We had a lot of people up out of their seats.”

Big boy: Missouri center Arthur Johnson is listed at 255
pounds on Missouri’s press release. On the Tigers’
website, Johnson is listed at 268.

After banging in the paint all game long against the Missouri
senior, Michigan freshman Courtney Sims thinks Johnson is more like
275.

Johnson, a Detroit native, fought for position inside, leading
to easy looks at the basket all night long. The senior connected on
10-for-18 from the floor for 26 points and grabbed 10 boards.

“He’s not just a big player — he’s very
skilled,” the 6-foot-11, 230-pound Sims said.
“He’s probably the best post player I’ve played
against this year.”

Amaker said that his team allowed Johnson to catch the ball too
close to the basket, which led to many easy buckets.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of trying to keep
him out of getting that deep (in the lane),” Amaker said.
“When he caught it, he was right into his move. He
didn’t have to back down that much.”

Despite taking a pounding in the middle, the youthful Michigan
frontcourt picked up some tips from Johnson.

“It was a great learning experience for us, showing us the
capabilities that these (post) guys have,” sophomore Graham
Brown said. “Some of those moves we can even learn
from.”

Break it down: Since yesterday’s game against
Missouri was the first his team had ever played in the postseason,
Amaker devised a way to try and keep the Wolverines focused on just
one game at a time.

In each Michigan locker is a small, four-team portion of the NIT
bracket, featuring Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana
State.

“Sometimes you get into tournament atmosphere, and
everyone’s talking about brackets, and everybody gets so
broad and global, and you forget about what’s right in front
of you,” Amaker said. “We have a chance to win our
mini-tournament if we can win against our next opponent.”

Michigan seems to have responded to the mini-brackets.

“I think that’s the perfect attitude that we need to
have coming into this — just take every game (one) at a
time,” sophomore Chris Hunter said. “When you think
about it small like that, I think it makes the task a little bit
easier.”

Notes: With last night’s loss, Missouri fell to 2-2
against Big Ten teams this season. The Tigers knocked off Iowa and
Indiana, but lost to Illinois during the regular season …
Last night’s crowd featured several recognizable faces:
Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown and general manager Joe Dumars,
ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico and former Michigan basketball star
and current ESPN color commentator Tim McCormick. Tirico was seen
cheering for Michigan on several occasions, while Brown joined in
the “Go … Blue” call-and-response chant … A
less-known (but possibly more important) person in attendance was
Brandon Wright, a 6-foot-9, 200-lb. power forward from Brentwood,
Tn. Wright, a member of the high school class of 2006, is a
Michigan recruiting target and is ranked one of the top five
players in that class.

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