A new team appeared at Crisler Arena on Saturday afternoon.
It wore maize jerseys that said Michigan across the front.
But these weren’t the Wolverines we have grown all too familiar with over the past few seasons.
They overcame adversity.
They stepped up when they needed to.
They laughed in the face of recent history, which dictated that they’d come up short.
And they won a game they absolutely had to win, defeating a ranked Indiana squad at home, 58-55.
Michigan hadn’t beaten the Hoosiers at Crisler in four years, and hadn’t topped them in 11 consecutive meetings. Not a single current Wolverine knew what it felt like to notch a win over Indiana.
History prescribed a loss for Michigan.
And at the time, so did the present.
After leading the entire way, including a 10-point lead just after halftime, Michigan found itself down by one with 4:30 remaining.
Senior Dion Harris, Michigan’s only dependable scorer, was in trouble with four fouls.
Everything pointed to the Wolverines folding. They should have faltered when another decent team hit them with its best shot, just like they did at Michigan State, just like they did against Iowa and just like they did in Bloomington earlier this season.
Instead, they came right back at Indiana. Harris knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing off a pass from sophomore Jerret Smith and Michigan didn’t trail for the rest of the game.
In addition to the foul trouble, Harris battled tendonitis in his knee throughout the contest. But he wasn’t the only Wolverine to hurdle obstacles.
Senior Courtney Sims was benched in favor of freshman Ekpe Udoh. He also accidentally tipped in an Indiana shot with just more than six minutes remaining. For a player who is known for having a fragile psyche, it would have surprised nobody had Sims sulked about either the benching or the misplayed rebound.
Saturday, he ran right back down the court and converted a Smith pass into a lay-up. And with just more than one minute remaining, he converted two clutch free throws to extend the Michigan lead to five.
Senior Brent Petway sometimes has trouble staying involved in a game all the way through. But the forward recorded two blocks in Indiana’s first three possessions. And after fouling Hoosier forward Mike White 25 feet from the basket (giving him two free throws) and missing a short jumper with just two minutes remaining, Petway responded by taking a charge from White on the next possession.
Sophomore Jerret Smith committed a horrible turnover, throwing the ball directly to guard Errek Suhr with Michigan up by three and just 50 seconds remaining in the game. But after White converted the lay-up on the other end, Smith, and the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament hopes were put on the line.
The Romulus native calmly sank two free throws, putting the Wolverines back up by three and forcing Indiana to do what coach Kelvin Sampson called “the hardest thing in the world . to get a three when you need a three.”
Individually and collectively, the Wolverines conquered adversity on Saturday. Amaker’s press conference provided some insight as to why.
“We have a saying with our team, ‘Next play,’ ” Amaker said. “Whether it’s a good play or a bad play, that’s the beauty of basketball, it’s moving, it’s continuous and you have to be able to move onto the next play mentally. Sometimes those plays can linger and cause you to have a few other negative plays. I was trying to make sure that we were focused on the next play and I thought our kids did that very well.”
For a coach that doesn’t often give noteworthy answers, Amaker hit the nail on the head with this one.
Previously, the Wolverines haven’t responded positively to negative plays.
When faced with adversity, they have been known to crumble.
Their heads often hang, their shoulders droop and their play suffers.
But not Saturday.
Not in this game, with any dreams of the Dance ready to disappear with a loss.
– Bromwich can be reached at email@example.com