Midway through the first quarter, junior center Hallie Thome hit the ground hard after going up for a rebound. She immediately grasped her right leg while lying on the floor and needed help as she limped back to the bench, not putting any weight on her injured leg.

The No. 24 Michigan women’s basketball team (8-2) entered its season with a dream of making the NCAA Tournament, but on Sunday afternoon against Kent State, the Wolverines had to confront the possibility of that dream evaporating into thin air.

“Anytime any of our kids go down,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, “you get a little nervous.”

Though she returned to the game for the second quarter after receiving assistance, her team felt her absence for the five minutes she was out. Michigan struggled without Thome, scoring just two points until late in the opening quarter. The Wolverines trailed 15-5 after the first 10 minutes and seemed lost without their star center. 

But Thome’s injury turned out to be just a minor one, and after taping her ankle, she came back stronger. Throughout the second quarter, she played through the pain and had an active presence on the court, helping her team bounce back from the early deficit — the game was tied at 19 at the half.

“She was critical, her getting back into the game for us,” Barnes Arico said. “She didn’t look like she was hobbling. Her face was wincing in pain, so I’m sure it was throbbing, but she didn’t look like she was hobbling.”

In the second half, Thome led Michigan to an eventual 54-41 victory. She finished with 11 points, tying for the team high, and grabbed six rebounds as well. While senior guard Katelynn Flaherty struggled and scored just four points, Thome stepped up to give the team the spark it needed.

She thrived when the Wolverines lacked steadiness, and she prevented what could have been an upset.

“It was incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “In the start of the second half, we went to her right away and she really made some plays for us to get us a little bit of a lead. … She’s been banged up a little bit — she hurt her wrist in practice the other day — but she was able to get back in the game and play through that which was really impressive.”

Thome’s toughness will help Michigan down the road since she is the team’s only true center. Her height and touch around the rim have been staples of the Wolverines’ success, and will be crucial as they work toward a postseason run.

So while there may have been some panic at Crisler Center, Michigan’s tournament dreams didn’t suffer a fatal blow, all thanks to Thome.

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