Twelve lead changes — all in the fourth quarter — did little justice in capturing the excitement witnessed at Crisler Center on Monday night.
It was pure joy for the Michigan women’s basketball team (21-13), which advanced to the WNIT semifinals for the second straight year after a down-to-the-wire battle with Temple.
The Wolverines won, 77-76, and will advance to play Florida Gulf Coast on the road Thursday night.
Temple (23-12) led by 15 in the first quarter, but Michigan’s furious third-quarter rally tied the game at 60 heading into the final stretch.
On the Wolverines’ final offensive possession, they needed five consecutive offensive rebounds before freshman center Hallie Thome scored the go-ahead layup with 7.8 seconds to go.
Chance after chance, each shot bounced off the rim, but Thome — treading dangerously with four personal fouls — banked in the much-needed last attempt.
“We knew we needed a basket and kept fighting after the ball and giving ourselves second and third and fourth opportunities,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It was a great finish by (Thome), but then we had to get two stops to seal it, and that was even more impressive.”
Temple nearly stole back the lead on the ensuing play. Guard Feyonda Fitzgerald drove to the basket for a layup but was met in the paint by Michigan’s Danielle Williams. The ball rolled around the rim three times before falling out, but it was of little importance, as Williams had already drawn a charge.
“Honestly, it was a ‘I happened to be in the right place, right time’ kind of thing,” Williams said. “I was really excited, but there was five seconds left on the clock, so I was like, ‘We still need to win, we still need to win.’ ”
A turnover on the inbounds play gave the Owls one last chance, but that shot bounced off the rim, and the Wolverines could finally breathe.
A series of clutch performances culminated in the dramatic ending. There was a third-quarter buzzer beater from sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, relentless drives from senior guard Madison Ristovski and lights-out shooting from junior guard Siera Thompson.
And those were just a few of the contributions that led to Thome’s final shot and Williams’ drawn charge.
“I’m just happy that (Thome) stuck with it,” Flaherty said of the last play. “It’s been a big battle all year for her, to stay with plays and keep rebounding. She was tough and won the whole game for us.”
As Flaherty mentioned, Thome’s big moment stands out during a season in which stronger opponents have knocked the freshman around. She is 6-foot-5, but Temple had a match for her with 6-foot-3 center Ugo Nwaigwe.
Nonetheless, Thome had two of the four offensive rebounds on the last play, a testament to her continuous growth.
Flaherty ended the night with a team-high 23 points, with 18 of those coming in the second half.
Temple built a 17-2 lead as the Wolverines committed six turnovers in the first quarter, but Flaherty, Ristovski and Thompson were all scoreless at that point.
Once they got going and started to hit shots, it was a whole new ballgame.
The Wolverines’ second-quarter outing was far better than their first, but their 10-point deficit at halftime meant they still had a ways to go.
They held Temple scoreless for the first five minutes of the second quarter, though, and Michigan went on a 9-0 run to cut a 15-point deficit down to five.
All nine points came from Ristovski, who scored 13 of the Wolverines’ 23 in the second quarter, helping cut the Owls’ lead to five.
That set the stage for pandemonium at Crisler, and the impossible comeback sent Michigan onward and upward to the WNIT semifinals.