Michigan’s oft maligned senior class has been ridiculed for not answering the bell for much of this season. With the pressure at an all time high and their tournament hopes hanging in the balance, they stepped up to the challenge Tuesday night against the Michigan Sate Spartans.
After the two teams got off to a slow start, Tom Izzo’s club opened up a 15-9 lead on a Drew Naymick jumper at the 10:37 mark. Jerret Smith finally delivered his club’s first field goal in five minutes when he hit triple to knife into the lead. That’s when the Wolverines best player and senior leader took over.
Dion Harris nailed a jumper to get himself on track and then began to aggressively attack the basket for lay-ups or fouls. When the dust settled he had scored eight straight points and had helped the home team re-take a 22-19 lead.
Michigan was able to extend that advantage a few minutes later when they got a scoring punch from an unlikely source. Deshawn Sims took advantage of an opening by driving and spinning in the paint for a mid-range jumper for his first bucket of the game. The next time down the floor he received a pass on the baseline and earned a trip to the free-throw line. The former Detroit Pershing star then capped off his one-man outburst seconds later when he jumped into the passing lane on defense and drove the length of the court for a lay-up. That gave the Wolverines a 30-22 lead and seemingly the momentum with 2:43 to go, but the Spartans managed to stem the tide
Maurice Joseph hit a three-pointer from the corner and an ailing Drew Neitzel (who did not start because an upper-respiratory infection) rained in a three-pointer from the elbow to cut the lead back to two with 41 seconds left on the clock. Knowing that his team needed a spark heading into the break, Dion Harris was not going to be out done. The senior wing answered Neitzel’s basket with an NBA range three as time expired to send Wolverines into the half with a 33-28 lead.
When the two teams emerged from the locker room the Spartans scored three straight points to cut the lead back to two again, but Michigan’s seniors were there with a response. A Brent Petway putback-slam ignited an 8-0 run (that included a Courtney Sims slam, a halfcourt alley-oop from Smith to Petway, and two free throws from Harris) that gave the Wolverines a 41-31 lead at the 15:26 mark. But as was the case in the first half, the Spartans refused to lie down.
Raymar Morgan silenced the crowd with a drive and dunk in traffic to cut the deficit back to single digits. That started an 8-0 run for the Spartans that cut the lead back to two with 13:27 remaining. That, however, is as close as they would get.
With the Wolverines clinging to a two-point lead, the seniors went to work again. Dion Harris and Courtney Sims both earned trips to the charity stripe to give the home team a little breathing room. Then after a Spartan miss, Harris drove to the hole and kicked the ball out to a wide open Ronald Coleman for a three-point attempt that he drained to put the Maize & Blue up 52-43 with 8:22 to go. The seniors then cemented the victory by hitting 10 free throws down the stretch (including six from Lester Abram) to preserve the 67-56 victory.
"We certainly felt we were going to have a lot of energy to play this game tonight,” Amaker said after the game. “We thought it was going to be a game of runs and it was. I was really impressed with how we were able to show poise when they made their runs. We got up by 10, they came right back at us and had an 8-0 run and cut right back into the lead – their fans in here got them going again. So I was really happy for our kids for fighting that run off. Then we put together our run and we finished the game out in a very first-class manner. I mentioned to our kids that I thought our seniors really propelled us to this victory. Courtney Sims with a double-double; Dion with just being an offensive machine out there for us and being a player who made plays, made shots (and) was aggressive – he was all over the place for us. (Then) Lester Abram made big free throws late to help us keep them at bay. So I was just really pleased for our seniors. But Dion, having 24 points, and Courtney Sims I thought played really big for us – 13 (points) and 10 (rebounds) – a big, big evening for that kid as well."
Next up for the Wolverines is a home match-up with the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Tip-off is scheduled for a 4:00 pm EST at Crisler Arena.