Though last night was Michigan’s first postseason game in
four years, its play in the contest’s first 30 minutes did
little to distinguish itself from the other 29 games the Wolverines
have played this season.
But the last 10 minutes did.
The Wolverines came from behind to defeat Missouri last night
65-64 in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament,
overcoming an eight-point second-half deficit and an eight-minute
offensive drought. Michigan will play the winner of tonight’s
Sugar Bowl rematch between Oklahoma and Louisiana State. The
official date and time have yet to be determined.
“They showed maturity, they showed toughness, they grew a
tremendous amount tonight,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
“When you get a chance to battle back and fight through some
adversity and win a game like that, that speaks volumes of what
this team is capable of doing.”
After falling down 48-40 with 10 minutes remaining, the
Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 19-11 overall) uncharacteristically fought
back to take a four-point lead with 3:28 remaining. Missouri senior
center Arthur Johnson scored to tie the game at 59, but Michigan
sophomore center Chris Hunter got two offensive rebounds off free
throws to set up the game’s winning baskets. Hunter pulled
down his first following sophomore forward Graham Brown’s
second consecutive miss and laid the ball back in to give Michigan
a 61-59 lead.
Following a defensive stop, Bernard Robinson missed the front
end of a one-and-one, but Hunter pulled down another board. This
allowed freshman guard Dion Harris to extend the advantage to 63-59
after being fouled away from the ball.
Former Detroit Renaissance guard Rickey Paulding hit a 3-pointer
with 50 seconds left to bring the game to 63-62. But Daniel Horton
drove down the lane through three Tiger defenders to extend the
score to 65-62 with 11 seconds remaining. Then Missouri guard Tommy
McKinney missed a 3-pointer, forcing Johnson to score a layup with
just a tenth of a second left. That completed the comeback win for
a Michigan team that has collapsed in the second half numerous
times this season.
“In the second half, we’ve let a lot of leads go and
have not been able to come back from them,” Robinson said.
“It showed our courage today when we were able to come back
and get the victory.”
Although the Wolverines couldn’t handle Johnson’s
size and strength inside, as he finished with 26 points and 10
rebounds, they amassed a nine-point lead early in the second half
via hot shooting by Horton and Harris. But, like many times this
season, the duo went cold, and so did the Wolverines. While neither
Horton nor Harris could score, Missouri went on a second-half 20-3
run with Michigan’s only field goal coming from a Brent
Petway putback dunk.
But the Wolverines rallied behind one of the loudest, albeit
small, crowds at Crisler Arena this season. Crisler will most
likely host Michigan’s second-round game if Louisiana State
wins, because Baton Rouge hosts NCAA Women’s Tournament games
starting this weekend.
“I didn’t expect the crowd to be like that,”
Hunter said. “We have to thank our fans for coming out, and
the student section was tremendous.”