NEW YORK — For their whole basketball careers, the rich pedigree that Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III were born into have come with equally high expectations. And that was before they stepped into the bright lights that bear down on the Madison Square Garden court, where their dads once shined as NBA All-Stars.
But in a city of glitz and glamour, Hardaway and Robinson stole the show, and not just with flash and pizzazz. The pair hit big shots, with Hardaway flashing a great deal of offensive firepower, but their rebounding was a big part of the story in Michigan’s 71-57 win over Kansas State to secure the program’s first NIT Season Tip-Off Championship.
After taking over the second half to propel the Wolverines past Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Hardaway scored a game-high 23 points, pulled down seven rebounds, and a knee to the head with under five minutes remaining was the only thing that slowed him down Friday night.
Robinson’s strength has made him a menace on the glass all season. The freshman pulled down a career-high 12 boards. A missed free throw in the game’s closing minutes was the all that stood between him and his first double-double.
Wildcat head coach Bruce Weber is no stranger to Michigan coach John Beilein’s system. Weber spent the previous five seasons at Illinois but said he’s never seen a Beilein-coached team play the way this year’s Wolverine squad does.
“They are their best in transition,” Weber said. “(Beilein’s teams) went from walking the ball up, grinding it out, to now their best thing is their transition.
“That was the No. 1 thing on the board. … They’ve got big guys that run. They got in that transition.”
But Weber isn’t just referring to Michigan’s post players. When Hardaway and Robinson grab rebounds, as they’ve done all season, they’re able to quickly push it up the open floor at a pace that a typical rebounding big man can’t, creating space for the shooters to spot up or the athletes to penetrate the lane.
Beilein has praised Hardaway’s offseason work ethic throughout the fall, and now, he said, the results are showing up on the floor.
“How about the rebounds he’s getting right now?” Beilein said. “He’s getting traffic rebounds from a lot of people (and) taking the ball on the break. He would give it up before, and we probably told him to because he didn’t have that confidence. He has it now.”
Hardaway, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and Robinson each average more than 6.5 rebounds per game, and Beilein pointed to them as a reason why Michigan was able to blow out a strong rebounding team like Kansas State, when in past years, the Wolverines would’ve struggled. Comparatively, Hardaway averaged fewer than four rebounds in his each of his first two seasons. Michigan dominated the glass all night, winning the rebound battle, 42-30, and held the Wildcats to 12 offensive rebounds — eight fewer than their season average.
“If we win this game (last year), it’s probably very close because they probably got put-backs — more than they had tonight,” Beilein said. “That’s important that we can limit their opportunities. … We haven’t been able to do that in the past. We’re doing it well now.”
But while Michigan might not have lost the game without the rebounding advantage, it certainly would’ve struggled even more without the duo’s offensive production. Four of Robinson’s rebounds were on the offensive end, helping the Wolverines score 10 second-chance points.
Hardaway, who used to rely heavily on his 3-point shooting, has begun attacking the rim with authoritative drives this season, while also penetrating and shedding his defender with a crossover — flashing some signs of his dad’s famous Texas Two-Step — to create space for open mid-range jumpers. He shot 9-for-12 from inside the arc.
Weber, who coached Hardaway on the Team USA junior team two summers ago, saw a marked improvement in the Miami native’s game.
“He’s a different player out there — you can see it confidence-wise,” Weber said. “The thing we noticed most was (Hardaway) putting it on the floor and getting to the basket. It makes it tough for people to guard him.”
A player with the name “Hardaway” on the back of his jersey used to get booed in Madison Square Garden. That’s what Tim Hardaway Sr., a former Miami Heat star and bitter rival of the New York Knicks, had to deal with in his playing days. But playing in front of a mostly Michigan crowd that included his father, Hardaway gave the fans plenty to cheer about, and his performance, Beilein says, is due to reasons other than having a famous father.
“That doesn’t just happen,” Beilein said. “He’s got great DNA, but DNA doesn’t get you there alone. You have to have great work ethic.”