The disappointment on the faces of the Michigan Wolverines was obvious the day before their first round NIT match-up with the Utah State Aggies, but the home team managed to put the sour feelings by the time game time rolled around. Tommy Amaker utilized a liberal substitution pattern that allowed his bench players more time on the floor. It was move to make sure the spirit and effort stayed consistent throughout the night, and one that ultimately proved effective.
The two teams fought a back and forth battle early on, but it was the Aggies that grabbed a 15-14 lead on a Jaycee Carroll three-pointer at the 13:29 mark. That’s when the Wolverines got a scoring boost from their freshmen big men. Deshawn Sims was the first to hit pay-dirt with two straight mid-range jumpers before Ekpe Udoh followed up with a turnaround jumper of his own to give Michigan a 20-17 advantage.
Utah State answered the brief spurt with four unanswered points to go back on top, but the lead didn’t last long. Michigan senior big men Courtney Sims and Brent Petway got into the act, scoring four points apiece on an 8-0 run to regain a 28-21 lead.
Minutes later, Utah State had cut the deficit back down to two when Deshawn Sims went to work again.
The former Pershing star looked like his old self, reeling off seven unanswered points to put Michigan a 35-26 with 2:09 remaining. The Wolverines expanded that lead to twelve (40-28) heading into the break thanks to five straight points from Jerret Smith, including a three-pointer just before the buzzer.
"When you're playing basketball, you just get in a zone,” Sims said regarding his scoring spurt. “That's exactly what I was in – a little zone of my own. I knew the shots were going to fall because of the way things were going."
The visitors managed to reduce the lead to single digits early in the second period, but Michigan still maintained a 52-43 lead at the 12:34 mark. That’s when the Aggies mounted their last serious threat of the game. A 10-2 run featuring three-pointers by Nick Hammer and Durrall Peterson cut the deficit to one (54-53) with 8:18 to go. With the game in doubt the, Maize & Blue dug in defensively and got a big scoring lift from the backcourt tandem of Jerret Smith and Lester Abram.
Abram stopped the bleeding for Michigan with a slashing move to the hole for a big and-one basket That ignited a 12-0 run, that also featured seven points from Smith, that put the Wolverines back out front by double digits again before cruising to the 68-58 victory.
After the game Amaker singled out the performances of Smith and Deshawn Sims.
"I thought Deshawn Sims gave us some incredible minutes off the bench,” Amaker said. “He had energy and he was aggressive on the offensive end. He knocked down jump shots and hit the glass hard. He really gave us a shot in the arm. I thought Jerret played a pretty darn good floor game. He made free throws down the stretch, which is what a good point guard is supposed to do."
On the night the Wolverines were led by Jerret Smith’s 15 points and four assists. Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll led all scorers with 22 points. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes, Quotes.
Next up for the Wolverines is a second round trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. The Seminoles defeated Toledo 77-61 earlier in the evening. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM EST and will be carried on ESPN U.