Things got off to slow start for both teams when Michigan and Minnesota hit the United Center floor this morning to kick off the Big Ten Tournament. Both clubs appeared a tad bit lethargic as they struggled to get used to the rims and backdrops in the pro arena. Lester Abram got the Maize & Blue off the snide by converting an and-one lay-up at the 18:24 mark to put the Wolverines up 3-0, but that was followed by a three minute scoring drought that wasn’t snapped until Courtney Sims cashed in on a lay-up opportunity down low.
Meanwhile, Minnesota couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. They didn’t get into the scoring column until Dan Coleman hit two free throws at the 15:06 mark. That, however, seemed to give the Gophers a little bit of life, igniting a 12-2 run that was capped off by a Lawrence McKenzie triple to put Jim Molinari’s club up by five (12-7) with 10:30 to go.
The ice cold Wolverines were able to respond thanks to production from an unlikely source. Freshman Deshawn Sims scored five straight points and grabbed a rebound over the next three minutes to knot the score at 12. That’s when Michigan’s senior leader Dion Harris began to get on track.
Michigan’s leading scorer had gone scoreless until a trip to the free throw line and a subsequent lay-up resulted in four straight points with less than five minutes left. The Gophers managed to tie the score again moments later, but a quick timeout by Michigan headman Tommy Amaker got his club back on track.
The Wolverines outscored Minnesota 4-0 down the stretch, thanks in large part to a late triple from Harris. That sent Michigan into the break clinging to a 20-16 lead.
Both teams shot abysmally in the first half, with Minnesota notching 28.6% on 6/21 shooting, and Michigan not fairing much better with 30.4% on 7/23 shooting. As bad as that was, the Wolverines weren’t dwelling on their poor offensive performance.
“I guess both teams struggled to put it in the basket, but we don't just look at the offensive side of things and base our performance off of that,” Harris explained. “We really dug down defensively. I don't think we'll worry too much about what we had going offensively. Obviously, we wanted to and we said we had to convert going into the second half. The main thing was trying to get easy baskets since both teams were struggling with shooting from the outside.”
The Wolverines did just that coming out of the locker room, going on an early 11-0 run that was sparked by a Brent Petway dunk. That gave Michigan a 35-21 advantage at the 15:19 mark, a lead that was later extended to 38-23 a few minutes later. But as was the case in the first half, the Gophers just would not die. A late 11-2 Minnesota run cut the lead to six (40-34) with 5:47 to go. That, though, is as close as they would get.
A Jerret Smith drive and dish to a wide open Ronald Coleman led to a triple that pushed the lead back to nine. The Wolverines were able to hold off their gritty counterparts at the free throw line to preserve the 49-40 victory.
"They got it back down to six, but we had to take it upon ourselves as seniors to finish it off strong and come out with the win no matter what,” Harris said afterward. “Obviously we don't want to let the lead get down to six after we had it up to 15, but it's up to us to do whatever we have to do to finish strong.”
On the game Harris led the Wolverines with 14 points. Spencer Tollackson was high point man for the Gophers with 15 points respectively. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes, Quotes.
Next up for the Wolverines is a rematch with the #1 seeded and top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Tip-off is scheduled for tomorrow at 11 AM CST time.