The Oregon Ducks entered Tuesday night’s NIT semi-final shooting 40.1% from 3-point range and nailing 9.2 per game. Their efficiency from behind the arc was obviously going to be a point of emphasis for the Wolverines heading into the game. Offensively, Amaker’s squad was facing a team with almost as much size, but far less athleticism. Michigan’s edge in that category would ultimately prove too much for the Ducks to overcome.
The Ducks started the contest hot, going 4/5 from the field to take a 10-7 lead four minutes into the game. Michigan then reeled off eight straight points, keyed by four from freshman Dion Harris (including a 3-pointer) to take a 15-10 lead 2 minutes later. Bernard Robinson Jr. had done a decent job of guarding Duck star Luke Jackson up to that point, but the senior was about to show why he scored 40 points in Oregon’s first round match-up against Colorado. After scoring only 2 points in the first six minutes, Jackson exploded for 7 points in 35 seconds to regain the lead for the Ducks, 17-15, at the 13:18 mark. Daniel Horton ended Jackson’s mini-run by nailing his 2nd 3-pointer of the game 30 seconds later. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they would have no more spurts like that, as the Wolverines really stepped up the defensive intensity.
Ernie Kent's squad went scoreless over a 4-minute span, ending at the 8:26 mark when Jackson knocked in another deuce. Michigan pushed their lead to seven points, 26-19, during that stint and showed no signs of letting up. The Wolverines perimeter defense was stellar up to that point and the Ducks didn’t hit their first basket from long distance until Aaron Brooks nailed one with 6:54 left in the half. That bucket, however, drew Oregon as close as they would get for the remainder of the game at 26-22.
Courtney Sims Fights for the loose ball (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Dion Harris and Daniel Horton led Michigan on a 17-1 run over the next 5 minutes, netting 6 points (on two 3-pointers) and 5 points (including a 3-pointer) respectively to take a 43-27 lead with 2:07 remaining. The Ducks’ Andre Joseph nailed a couple of three-pointers of his own in the half’s final minutes, but the Wolverines still went into the intermission with a 46-32 lead.
When Michigan came out of the locker room their defense was even more stifling than in the first half. Center Ian Crosswhite was the only Duck to register on the scoreboard in the half’s first five-and-a-half minutes, netting 6 points. In the meantime, the Wolverines were putting on an offensive clinic…running Amaker’s motion offense as well as they had at any point in the season. Excellent floor spacing, crisp passing, and precise cuts allowed them to notch 11 points over the same period. Much to the chagrin of Ernie Kent’s bunch, it was only going to get worse. "I thought our ball movement was great,” said Daniel Horton. “We've been playing really unselfish and our guys are getting the open looks. We've been able to knock down those shots as of late, and I think you can contribute that to being in the gym and working on it.”
The Maize and Blue ran circles around the slow-footed Duck defenders to go on a 14-5 run that pushed the advantage to 71-47 with 8:12 left in the game. That was essentially the knockout blow as the Wolverines coasted to the 78-53 victory.
On the game Michigan held the Ducks to 21.1% (4/19) from the arc and 34.5% (20/58) overall while they shot 47.4% (9/19) from the arc and 52.7% (29/55) overall. Michigan spread the wealth offensively with 4 players in double figures. Daniel Horton and Dion Harris Robinson led the way with 15 points and 14 points respectively. Jackson led the Ducks on the night with 17 points and 7 rebounds. To view the full boxscore, click here.
After the game, Amaker singled out the defensive effort against Jackson as one of the keys to victory. “We tried different match-ups against him and rotated different players on him, said Amaker. “I thought we were able to wear him down. We didn't give him anything easy and we wanted to make sure that if he was going to score against our team defense, then he would have to earn it.” Bernard Robinson Jr., whose charge it was to defend the Duck star most of the night, agreed that it was a team effort. “He's very tough and very smart out there,” said UM’s senior leader. “He's not a player who is going to rush anything. He can penetrate inside but he can also pass. It was going to be a load to try to stop him, but I think my teammates helped me out a lot and helped me contain him.”
Luke Jackson meets a wall of Wolverine defenders (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Daniel Horton indicated after the game that the run in the NIT is a sign that it’s all coming together. “Lately, we have been putting together some complete games and today's game goes right in that category,” said Horton. “We got out-rebounded in the first half, but we came out after halftime and really tried to get on the glass. Coach (Amaker) challenged our big guys to get on the boards and I think the difference-maker was limiting them to just one shot. I think we're finally getting to the point where we're just getting better and better and where we're competing every night. We're really concentrating on giving it our all on the defensive end and I think it's really starting to pay off for us.”
Michigan now advances to the final game of the NIT Thursday vs. Gary Waters and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Knights disposed of Iowa State in overtime 84-81 earlier in the evening. Waters, who was a candidate for the Michigan coaching job after Brian Ellerbe was fired, was very outspoken about not gaining the position, which should add an interesting element to Thursday Night’s contest. The game tips at 7pm on ESPN.