Crisler Arena has been somewhat of a sanctuary for the Wolverines this year. With a 15-3 mark heading into last night’s NIT match-up with the Hawaii Rainbows(21-12), the home court aspect of the match-up loomed very large. The influx of “true” fans into the basketball arena (a raucous 10,000+ on the night) and the long distance the Rainbows had to travel made the advantage appear even more prevalent. It certainly seemed to have helped the Maize and Blue on offense throughout the night. On the other hand, the Rainbows seemed oblivious to the aforementioned factors for much of the game and would give the Wolverines all that they had.
The Rage leads the crowd!
Daniel Horton started the torrid offensive pace with a 3-pointer out of the blocks, as he and Bernard Robinson Jr. teamed up to net Michigan 9 points in the first four minutes. Jason Carter responded to Horton’s 3-pointer with one of his own and the Rainbows countered at every turn to tie the score, 9-9, by the first television timeout at the 16 minute mark. Robinson Jr. indicated that there was a reason the Rainbows were able to keep up offensively. “We just weren't being very alert in the first half,” said the senior wing. “We weren't alert to their plays. We knew what they were trying to do and we weren't fast getting to the spot.”
Daniel Horton with the jump pass to Courtney Sims
After the timeout the Wolverines went on their first run of the game, initiated by an authoritative slam from Chris Hunter. Over the next 3 minutes Michigan outscored the Rainbows 15-6, capped off by a 3-pointer from Lester Abram. The Pontiac native buried the shot only moments after entering the game and being absent from action in the previous three. His jumper allowed Michigan to take a 24-15 advantage with 12:40 left in the half. Abram didn’t know before the contest that he would be playing. “I was kind of surprised,” said Abram referring to actually getting to play. “I wasn’t expecting to get in. I told him (Coach Amaker) that I was ready before the game started, but he just kind of smiled. I didn’t know if he took me serious or not, but I was serious.”
Chris Hunter slams one home!
The Rainbows proved to be up to the challenge rendered by the Michigan run, and reeled off 8 straight points to cut the lead to one, at 24-23 with 10:10 remaining. A minute-and-a-half later the Rainbows’ Michael Kuebler nailed a three-pointer to tie the score at 28. The two teams exchanged buckets over the next four minutes and then Lester Abram started to attack like he did before his injury. Michigan’s leading scorer lived up to that title with an inside/outside arsenal that was responsible for 7 of the Wolverines final 11 points of the half. The home team outscored the Rainbows 11-5 down the stretch to take a 43-37 by intermission. "I wasn't anticipating playing him(Abram) as much as I did, but with Bernard picking up early fouls and it being a tightly contested game early, he did,” said Amaker. “He really came through for us. To play the way he did after the long layoff says a lot about the kid's toughness and his desire to do good things for this program.”
Lester Abram with the J!
Daniel Horton started the 2nd half much like he started the first when he opened up the period with a jumper to push the lead to 8. The Wolverines then made a concerted effort to go inside and the man from Mio, Graham Brown, proved up to the task. He really made his presence felt by getting to the free throw line and muscling around in the post. His lay-up at the 14:50 mark gave Michigan their largest lead up to that point, making the score 57-47.
Graham Brown muscles up the shot
Kuebler and center Julian Sensley came up huge over the next five minutes, scoring all 12 Rainbow points (6 coming courtesy of Kuebler 3-pointers) during that stint. Unfortunately for the visitors, Bernard Robinson Jr. was back on the floor after being saddled with early foul trouble. The senior’s poise really stuck out as he had a hand in 9 of Michigan’s 15 points during the same time frame to increase the Wolverines’ advantage to 13, at 72-59 with 8:06 left in the game. “He got in foul trouble early, but came back and played, I felt, really smart basketball,” said Amaker. “He put himself in positions in the second half to make other people better. That's one thing about the way Bernard plays: he helps his teammates and makes the play in a different way. To have seven assists from someone who plays the small forward position is pretty good.”
Bernard to the rack!
Kuebler continued to knock down 3-pointers, but Abram’s offensive assault wasn’t over either. He scored 5-points in the waning minutes and Daniel Horton put the exclamation point on the effort with a beautiful alley-oop to Brent Petway. The Wolverines outscored Hawaii 16-14 down the stretch to preserve the 88-73 victory. “I just wanted to go out and play and lay it out on the line,” said Horton. “It was all or nothing tonight. Those guys fought hard, to say they flew so hard in such a short time. You could see at the end of the game they were tired, but they kept fighting and kept knocking down open shots and tried to keep us out of the game.” Coach Amaker echoed his floor leader’s sentiments. “I think it’s obvious that the long trip probably factored into the last nine or ten minutes,” said the Wolverines head man. “ I thought that they may have gotten a little winded, tired, and fatigued with their legs. I think that played it’s roll and it allowed for us to play a number of players.”
Lester glides to the hole!
Hawaii head coach Riley Wallace felt that the travel and the crowd were certainly factors in his team’s loss, but he also gave credit to Michigan’s diversity on offense. “When anybody has balanced scoring like that, it makes it tough,” said Wallace. “There was no one person you could get on defensively, so what they had was five-man movement and we just didn't get there defensively sometimes."
On the game the Wolverines had five players in double figures, led by Abram with 17 and Robinson and Brown with 14 apiece. Michael Kuebler led the Rainbows with a game high 19 points and 8 assists respectively. For more on this game, including the full boxscore, click the following links: (Boxscore, Notes, Quotes).
Michigan (21-11) now advances to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York to take on the winner of tonight’s match-up between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Oregon Ducks. The Wolverines will next take the court on March 30th at either 7 or 9pm.