In the first three games of the season (which includes two exhibitions) the Michigan Wolverines came out of the blocks slowly before battling back to earn hard fought victories. Poor shooting and costly turnovers were a few of the reasons for the lack in offensive productivity. That said, Coach Tommy Amaker mentioned previously that it was only a matter of time before his perimeter shooters got back on track. That along with intense defensive effort would be the formula for rectifying the Wolverines' early struggles. In Wednesday night's 2nd round NIT match-up with the Colorado Buffaloes, both of those ingredients were present.
Michigan jumped out to an early lead thanks to their aggressiveness on both ends of the court. On defense they shot into passing lanes and on offense they pushed the ball on both makes and misses to generate a number of easy shots. The Buffaloes weren't able to match the intensity and were down 14-2 by the first media timeout at 15:33. Sophomore center Courtney Sims indicated that the home team was definitely looking to set the tone from the start. "We started off slow last game, so we wanted to focus on getting a fast start and maintaining that lead and not having a letdown," Sims said. "I think we did a really good job with that."
Despite the size Colorado possessed in the post, the Wolverines made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside. "Our post players are very confident," Amaker said. "Colorado was blocking shots from every angle and direction. Certainly we wished our guys could have drawn a little more contact in there. We need to close the gap. We gave them gaps to block in, but we didn't back down from it and we were able to convert from the free throw line. I was very pleased with Courtney's (Sims) double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds)."
The attention Ricardo Patton's club paid to the post opened things up for Michigan's
perimeter players, and Dion Harris took excellent advantage of the space that
was created. His 15 first half points (on 6/9 from the field and 2/4 from three)
helped rebuild a lead that was reduced to as few as eight points, back up 15
(40-25) by intermission.
The Wolverines didn't miss a beat coming out of the locker room, outscoring the Buffs 9-6 in the first five and a half minutes to increase the lead to 18 points (49-31). Over the next nine minutes things didn't get any better for the visitors. A huge alley-oop from Daniel Horton to Brent Petway and seven straight points by Harris helped extend the lead even further (61-42) with only five minutes left in the contest. Even though it looked as though the maize and blue would cruise to victory at that point, the Buffaloes still had some fight left in them. Their effort in the game's waning moments taught the home team a valuable lesson about playing a full forty minutes.
Colorado's star freshman and leading scorer, Richard Roby, caught fire near the end of the game to help spark a comeback. He hit five points (including a three-pointer) in an 11-0 run that cut Michigan's lead to eight with 2:44 left in the game. On Michigan's ensuing possession Coach Patton had his team pressure the sideline inbounds, which led to a held ball. The possession arrow went to the Wolverines and the Buffs again applied the pressure. This time, however, Petway leaked toward the basket and received the ball for a ferocious slam that ended the drought and pushed the lead back to 10 with 2:23 left on the clock.
Michigan maintained that margin until Roby struck again with another three to cut the lead to seven with 56 seconds remaining. That, though, is as close as they would get. When the Wolverines got the ball back, Daniel Horton streaked down court for a contested lay-up attempt. The ball rolled off the rim, but a hustling Courtney Sims was trailing on the play and stuffed home the rebound to put the game out of reach and secure the 69-60 victory.
"It was a hard-fought game," Amaker said afterward. "I though we came with a lot of energy. We took the lead early. Colorado bounced back in it, showing the leadership and toughness that that team is capable of. We had solid play from many different players. Dion Harris was tremendous for us the whole game. Overall, for this team to be 2-0 and advance to the NIT Preseason is pretty special."
On the night Dion Harris led the Wolverines with 24 points 4 assists and 5 steals. Richard Roby paced the Buffaloes with 18 points and 4 steals. For more on the game, click the following links (Boxscore, Notes, Quotes). For the full NIT bracket, click here.
Michigan now moves on to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden next Wednesday
(November 24th) and will face the winner of tomorrow's match-up between 11th
ranked Arizona and Wright State. Before they travel to New York City, though,
they'll have to tangle with the Sacramento State Hornets Friday night at Crisler