All season long, Michigan had been in pursuit of one marquee victory to rely on come NCAA Tournament selection time.
And after defeating No. 24 Indiana 58-55 at Crisler Arena today, the Wolverines finally have it.
There was nothing easy about the win though. After leading for the entire game, Michigan gave up the lead with just over five minutes remaining in the second half following two free throws from Hoosier junior Mike White.
In past games, that would have been the nail in the coffin for the Wolverines (6-6 Big Ten, 18-9 Overall). But this time around, Michigan’s veterans showed their moxie.
Following White’s basket, senior guard Dion Harris fed fellow senior Courtney Sims, who scored 12 second-half points coming off the bench, for an easy lay-up to regain the lead. White then came right back down the court to hit another tough layup and was fouled in the process.
But that’s when Harris decided he had seen enough.
After White missed his free throw Harris positioned himself on the right wing, directly in front of Michigan’s bench. Sophomore Jerret Smith -who started the game in place of usual-starter junior Ron Coleman – fed Harris and he calmly stroked a 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Hoosier guard A.J. Ratliff to give Michigan a 51-49 lead.
The Wolverines never looked back, hitting clutch free throws in the waning minutes to secure the win. The victory snapped Michigan’s 11-game losing streak versus Indiana (7-5, 17-8).
After a slow start to the first half in its Jan. 27 loss to the Hoosiers, Michigan came out flying in this one, jumping out to an 11-2 lead in the game’s first five minutes. The run was sparked by Harris’s two 3-pointers, who enjoyed newfound freedom now that Smith, a true point guard, was inserted into the lineup.
But after the Wolverines’ initial surge, the Hoosiers charged back, embarking on their own 9-2 run. It cut the Wolverines lead to just two heading into the second media timeout.
From there, the game turned into a good old fashioned Big Ten slugfest, with both teams unable to muster much on the offensive end. Michigan shot just 38 percent from the field in the first half, but the Hoosiers’ inaccuracy was even worse. They made just seven field goals the entire stanza, allowing the Wolverines to open up a 25-18 lead at halftime.
Indiana, known for its 3-point shooting prowess, attempted 21 trifectas, hitting on just six of them. Michigan made shot over 57 percent from beyond the arc, with Harris and Smith making four and two treys, respectively.
Part of Indiana’s woes were due to the absence of point guard Earl Calloway, who dressed for the game but did not play due to an injury he sustained in Indiana’s loss to Purdue on Thursday.
Indiana junior D.J. White, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, was also held in check. After dominating the paint in the Hoosiers’ win over the Wolverines earlier in the season, White had just seven points and four rebounds this afternoon. He was saddled with foul trouble for a large portion of the second half.
Michigan finally showed it can beat an elite team at home, but now it must do the same on the road. The win prolongs the Wolverines’ tournament chances for one more game, when it faces another must-win situation in Champaign against an injury-riddled Illinois team.
– For full coverage from Saturday’s win, check the Daily’s SportsMonday coverage on Monday.