NIT Champs! Michigan 62, Rutgers 55

<b>***AM Update****</b> <em>Photos and more game notes added</em><br><br> There they were, hopping in a circle, arm in arm ... celebrating a National Championship. The National Invitation Tournament Championship.<br><br> <b>Michigan 62, Rutgers 55!</b><br><br> For those old enough to remember, Michigan also won the NIT Tournament exactly 20 years ago -- in 1984 , to start a big-time winning period in Michigan men's basketball history. Will Wolverine history repeat itself?

Let us take you back. The year was 1984. Bill Freider was in his fourth year as Michigan men's basketball coach, and Michigan Tim McCormick (Freider's first big-time recruit) was in his fourth and final season. The Wolverines struggled in those first four years of Freider's reign, going 19-11, 8-19, and 16-12 before making in into the NIT in 1984. In NYC that March Wolverines won it, beating Digger Phelp's Notre Dame team in the finals 83-63. And even though the game was McCormick's last (he in fact petitioned the NCAA for a 5th year of eligibility but was not accepted into grad school at U-M even though he had a 3.0+ GPA ...), that NIT Title launched a young Michigan basketball team into a 'Golden Era.' With Roy Tarpley at center Michigan won the next two Big Ten Championships, and the program continued to win right through the ultimately-ill-fated "Fab Five era." Over that 14 year stretch the Wolverines made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances including the 1989 Championship and the 1992 Finals, and they also won the 1997 NIT Championship. They averaged almost 24 wins a season during that period.

Tim McCormick while with the Houston Rockets (Getty Images)

So will history repeat itself (without the sour ending of course!)? Only time will tell, but there are parallels. This year it was senior Bernard Robinson Jr. who led a young Wolverine team through the NIT tournament. After the game, Daniel Horton said of Robinson: "He did everything for this year's team ... he led us in everything. We wouldn't have even been here without him.". Whether there is another 'Golden Era' coming up ... with the return next year of Horton, Lester Abram, Dion Harris, Courtney Sims, Chris Hunter, Brent Petway, Graham Brown and company ... nothing is uncertain, but all IS possible!

No matter what the future holds, THIS night was all Michigan's.

The Wolverine's held a single-digit lead for most of the first half. Michigan made its first four shots, including a three-pointer by Dion Harris, to open a 9-2 lead two minutes into the game. But with 15:20 left on the clock the Wolverines went into a four minute dry spell and Rutgers took its first lead of the game,16-14. But the two teams were about to switch roles. It was the Scarlet Knights' turn to go through scoreless stretch of their own. Brent Petway's jumper with 11:30 remaining tied it back up and began an 11-0 run that ended at the 5:10 mark thanks to a jumper from Herve Lamizana. That halted a seven minute scoreless streak for Gary Waters' club. Michigan was not to trail in the half again. Behind balanced scoring -- 5 points by Daniel Horton, 3 each by Lester Abram and Courtney Sims, and 2 by Chris Hunter and Dion Harris, Michigan gradually extended its lead to as many as 9 points before Ricky Shields cut it to 7 with 2 seconds remaining. The Wolverines into the half up 32-25. Only Lamizana's 11 first half points and stellar play on the defensive end (8 blocks on the night) kept Rutgers in the game. The Michigan defenders held postseason scoring leader Quincy Douby to ZERO points before the intermission.

Ricky Shields shows his disappointment(Ap Photo)

Coming out of the lockerroom the Wolverines extended the lead behind two baskets by Graham Brown and a 3-pointer by Horton to go up by 41-29 with 16:30 remaining. But then Rutgers came back. Quincy Douby converted his only basket of the game to spark a 15-2 scoring run that gave the Scarlet Knights a 44-43 lead with 11 minutes left in the game. The Wolverines, whom had their offense clicking on all cylinders two nights ago against Oregon, were drastically out sync for much of the second half. Hurried and ill-advised shots had crept their way back into this young team's on-court routine.

At this point, the collective worry of the Wolverine faithful could be felt everywhere. This was all too familiar. To hold the lead for most of the game, only to give it up midway through the second half was Michigan's pattern through much of the Big Ten season. Would the Wolverines 'fold their tents and go home'? NO -- not this time! As Tommy Amaker said before the game, "In March we have learned to win."

Lester Abram, Chris Hunter, and Bernard Robinson Jr. celebrate (AP photo)

The Wolverines did NOT fold. Dion Harris answered the bell in a huge way, nailing a three pointer from the top of the key to give the Maize and Blue the lead again, 46-44. The lead went back and forth for four more minutes, but Michigan went ahead for good when Courtney Sims powered in a basket down low to make the score 50-48 with 5:10 left on the clock. The Scarlet Knights went through another dry spell, going scoreless over the next four minutes. U-M, on the other hand, began to put the game away. A basket by Chris Hunter, two free throws by Dion Harris, and three more from the charity stripe by Bernard Robinson put Michigan ip 57-48 with a minute to go. The Wolverines coasted in from there with 5 more free throws in the last minute, to win it 62-55.

Bernard Robinson Jr. cuts down the net! (AP photo)

To sum it up, nether team shot real well (both Michigan and Rutgers hit 36% of their field goals), but the Wolverines worked the ball around well and went to the foul line, where they hit 16-27 free throws -- to only 4-9 for the Scarlet Knights.

Daniel Horton, who took home took home the MVP trophy, led the Wolverines with 14 points, Dion Harris made 13, and Bernard Robinson and Courtney Sims added 9 each. Herve Lamizana led Rutgers with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 blocks. For the full boxscore, notes, and quotes from the game, click the following links. (Boxscore,Notes,Quotes).

Daniel Horton wins MVP (AP photo)

The Wolverines end a memorable 2003/04 season with a 23-11 record.

And as far as the beginning of a 'Golder Era' of Wolverine men's basketball ... with everyone coming back but Bernard Robinson Jr., Michigan fans have high hopes! As Horton said after the game, "Hopefully this will prepare us for next year ... starting with the Preseason NIT Tournament!"

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