I did not make this headline up
hoops game recaps
Jordan Morgan's shot got the roll. Tracy Abrams didn't give his a chance, clanging his last-second floater off the front iron.
In an all-too-close game against Illinois, that ended up being the difference for Michigan, which narrowly avoided being bounced in their first Big Ten Tournament game despite playing ugly defense and seeing their offense grind to a halt when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half.
In the early going, it looked like the Wolverines would win comfortably. Michigan jumped out to a 12-7 lead despite missing a few open three-point looks. After the Illini closed the gap, Michigan pushed it back up to five by halftime thanks to a spectacular breakaway dunk by Caris LeVert. At the break, Michigan was 7/12 from two and 6/13 from three. The defense wasn't playing very well, sure, but Illinois would inevitably have trouble keeping up. Right?
Wrong. John Groce called for the 2-3 zone for most of the second half, and suddenly the Wolverines couldn't generate anything inside the arc. Michigan only attempted five two-pointers in the second half. To make matters worse, the outside shots stopped falling: 4-for-17 on threes in the latter stanza. Nik Stauskas, despite leading the team with 19 points, had an unusually poor day from the field, shooting 2/2 inside the arc but just 2/10 beyond it; his saving grace was getting to the line, where he hit 9/10 attempts.
While Michigan went cold, Illinois kept carving up the Wolverine defense, and Rayvonte Rice gave the Illini a 63-61 lead on a layup with just 2:31 on the clock. For some reason, however, Groce decided that was the time to go back to man-to-man defense. Stauskas immediately took advantage, driving past his defender and drawing a foul; he'd split the pair of free throws to close the gap to one.
Jordan Morgan made the defensive play of the game on the next possession, teaming with Derrick Walton to hedge Tracy Abrams and pin him against the sideline; Abrams's had to chuck up an airball as the shot clock expired, giving Michigan a chance to retake the lead.
They'd do just that off a high ball screen for Stauskas, though not in the way they'd planned:
"Coming out of the timeout, Nik told me he was going to shoot it regardless." - Jordan Morgan
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) March 14, 2014
Two Illinois defenders made a shot near-impossible, so Stauskas rose above them and delivered a pinpoint feed to Morgan rolling towards the basket. Michigan's senior captain put it up soft, and the ball fell through after a couple bounces on the rim, giving the Wolverines a one-point edge with seven seconds left.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining, Abrams had one last chance to win the game for Illinois. As Illini guards had done for much of the afternoon, he blew right past the Michigan defense, then pulled up in the paint for a short floater. The shot came out short, however, and the Wolverines—partially out of joy, partially out of relief—ran celebrating to the Michigan bench.
It wasn't pretty. It was a win. Now Michigan awaits the winner of OSU/Nebraska, whom they'll play tomorrow at 1:40 on CBS in the conference semifinals.
"It was fun to start the game off like that," Jordan Morgan said, eyes still welled from an emotional night. "I'd done enough reminiscing and getting all soft."
Morgan had tears in his eyes when he held his jersey aloft in the pregame Senior Day ceremony. The "soft" stuff then took a hiatus until postgame. Michigan's lone senior scored the team's first three baskets en route to his fifth career double-double and first of the season.
Morgan's hard work kept the Wolverines in the game while their man-to-man defense faltered, allowing Indiana to hit their first nine shots from the field. He took advantage of Indiana switching picks early, attacking guards on the block and keeping possessions alive with his rebounding. He set the tone for the team's eventual comeback.
"Nobody puts in more time in the gym than Jordan Morgan," John Beilein said during the postgame ceremony, with confetti streaming down on his head and two-thirds of a Crisler net in his hand. "He deserved everything he got tonight."
The elephant in the room, however, is that two of Michigan's other stars may have also just played their last game in the Crisler Center. Nik Stauskas scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half, getting to the rim at will against Yogi Ferrell and his Hoosier cohorts. When he cut down his piece of the net, Stauskas paused for a moment, then saluted the crowd; if it wasn't a goodbye, it sure felt like one.
Glenn Robinson III may also make the leap to the NBA next season. If so, he went out in style, capping off a 20-point night with a corner three—off a drive-and-dish from Stauskas—that gave Michigan a three-point lead with 1:08 remaining. He'd missed 15 of his previous 17 three-point attempts; when it came down to crunch time, however, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire.
While Michigan couldn't prevent Indiana from getting quality looks, a switch to the 1-3-1 in the second half provided them just enough defense to come away with the win. The turnover-prone Hoosiers coughed up the rock just three times in the first half. After Beilein's adjustment, they committed 12 turnovers in the second half alone. That proved critical in conjunction with Michigan's six total turnovers and 11-6 edge in offensive rebounds; they needed every last extra possession to squeeze out this victory.
Caris LeVert played a huge role in that as the disruptive force at the top of the zone, coming away with two steals in addition to his 13 points and four rebounds. The rest of the team had a relatively quiet night—Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht combined for 15 points, with none scoring more than four apiece.
In the end, it was just enough for Michigan to secure a 15-3 Big Ten record, as well as defeating every Big Ten squad for the first time since 1992. After the game, Morgan's emotions were apparent as he discussed what tonight meant to him.
"You talk about five years worth of emotions wrapped up into one day. So much work, sweat, and adversity that went into putting this program where it is, just years and years of battling, just a constant battle for five years—no matter what it is, whether it's on the court or off the court. It's the culmination of all that."
"I love playing with these guys, they're some of the best teammates..."
Morgan trailed off.
"It's been an amazing year."
He caught himself.
GRIII: Pretty, pretty good at the whole "jumping" thing. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
I'm at a loss for words.
Michigan just secured their second Big Ten title in three years with two games remaining on the schedule. The year the Wolverines didn't win, they made the national championship game. At least four plays tonight were more spectacular than anything I witnessed Michigan do in the entire Ellerbe/Amaker era—good lord, Glenn Robinson—and this wasn't a good offensive effort by this team's standards.
The novelty of Michigan basketball being a legitimate national powerhouse hasn't worn off in the slightest. I still can't help but blurt out "oh my god" on press row when Nik Stauskas throws a lob to GRIII and he throws it down on two people without regard for gravity or human life. Ditto when the backup point guard with one scholarship offer sparks another highlight-reel alley-oop with an Unseldian outlet pass, then follows it up with a leaping high-wire act to tap keep a critical possession alive. Or when Caris LeVert, one-time Ohio commit, continues to develop into an all-B1G player before our very eyes.
I'm still trying to comprehend last year. Now this? Without Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. or Mitch McGary? My brain is a 404 error. The page you are looking for does not exist. Please return to the front page and continue staring at the banners above you until you're 100% sure this is reality.
Adding to my confusion is the manner by which Michigan won tonight. Their shots weren't falling in the early going; unlike the last handful of games, however, the Wolverines weathered an early opposition run with quality defense. Minnesota led 15-9 at the ten-minute mark of the first half. At halftime, Michigan led 31-20, even providing a signature defensive moment during their 22-5 run, a spectacular Robinson block of an Andre Hollins fast break layup.
The offense eventually found its rhythm thanks to the exploits of Michigan's three stars. Stauskas knocked down 5/8 three-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points. Though LeVert (13 points) struggled outside the arc (1/5), he hit 4/8 two-pointers, dished out five assists, and used his three defensive rebounds to ignite transition opportunities. Robinson added 12 points, half of which came on alley-oops, seemingly touched the rafters to pull down a critical late offensive rebound before finishing the job himself, and knocked home one of his signature 18-footers.
Jordan Morgan scored five points on three shots, but that only scratches the surface on his contributions tonight. He drew a huge charge call in the second half, played his usual excellent defense, and pulled in ten rebounds. Morgan's final board, on a Stauskas miss with 1:45 remaining, led to Spike Albrecht sinking a dagger to put Michigan up ten, capping a high-impact outing for Michigan's backup point guard. Derrick Walton only played 18 minutes; in that time, he scored eight points on five shots.
Michigan will raise their third banner is as many years when the 2014-15 season begins. Several of tonight's key figures won't be in uniform—Morgan, definitely, and who knows what will happen with the pro prospect sophomores? It'll be a familiar feel to start a Michigan season, and that alone is astounding to this child of the late '90s and early aughts.
Better yet, this season isn't over, and once again the Wolverines are rounding into form as the calendar flips to March. I think this Beilein fellow just might work out.
Abbreviated recap since my laptop ate the first one and we're about to record a podcast.
Nik Stauskas scored 21 second-half points [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Just when they needed it most, Michigan's stars aligned to lead them to a 79-70 win over Michigan State, wresting control of the Big Ten from the Spartans in the process.
Nik Stauskas scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, including 11 straight for the Wolverines. Regardless of the defender, Stauskas shot over Spartans for a series of daggers, including the three-pointer that gave Michigan the lead for good with 10:04 remaining. Despite taking a series of shots that few other players in the country could even attempt without getting pulled, Stauskas finished the game 9/13 from the field, with a 3/5 mark from beyond the arc.
Michigan went on a 21-3 second-half run in which Stauskas and Caris LeVert (23 points) scored every Wolverine point. In addition to hitting huge shots in the second half, LeVert keyed the Michigan offense in the first, scoring 14 points and nailing a buzzer-beating triple to end the first stanza; before the shot even hit its apex, LeVert was already skipping back to the locker room.
Glenn Robinson III (15 points, 6/12 FG), the only other Wolverine to score in double-digits, made the most noise with his final shot from the field, a spectacular reach-back alley-oop finish on a feed from Stauskas to put the Wolverines up 11 with 2:33 to play. Not only did the dunk put the game out of reach, it nearly brought Crisler crumbling to its foundation.
Aside from the offensive heroics from Michigan's stars, the biggest contribution came from John Beilein, whose call to go to a 1-3-1 defense in the second half played a huge role in Michigan's big run. Not only did the Spartans commit seven second-half turnovers, they had difficulty getting the ball to Adreian Payne (12 points) even though Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford both dealt with foul trouble.
There were other contributions, as well. Spike Albrecht spearheaded a 10-0 first-half run when Keith Appling had to sit with two fouls. Horford and Morgan limited MSU's offensive rebounding. Derrick Walton threaded a gorgeous pass to Robinson for one of his three assists. Zak Irvin threw down a breakaway dunk to highlight the run started by Albrecht after Spike and LeVert forced a Payne turnover.
In the end, the extra possessions generated by Michigan's incredible ball control—just three turnovers all game—and State's inability to do the same made the difference. The Wolverines now stand alone in first place with a favorable schedule moving forward. The Big Ten isn't secured just yet; this was, however, the biggest hurdle remaining in the race for a banner.
Caris LeVert's 25 points ultimately weren't enough [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Oh, it should've been, could've been worse than you would ever know.
Well, you told me about nowhere well it sounds like someplace I'd like to go.
You know it's not going well when the arena staff decides Modest Mouse's "Dashboard" is an appropriate song to play during halftime. With Michigan down 34-19 to Wisconsin at the break, however, the choice proved prescient.
If not for Caris LeVert's 17 second-half points, this game never would've been close, and even the final 13-point margin doesn't capture Wisconsin's dominance. The Badgers raced out to a 14-4 lead as Michigan's familiar defensive woes reared their ugly head, dominated the boards, and pushed the gap as wide as 18 points when U-M went 5:05 without hitting a field goal.
The deficit proved too much to overcome despite LeVert's best efforts. After the sophomore connected on a pair of three throws to cut Wisconsin's lead to three points with 6:16 remaining, Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky answered with a post-up finish. Kaminsky proceeded to take over, hitting his next three shots—including an and-one and a stepback three—to give the Badgers an insurmountable 65-52 edge with just over two minutes left.
Michigan couldn't find an answer all afternoon for Kaminsky, who finished with 25 points (10/14 2-pt, 1/2 3-pt) and 11 rebounds (four offensive). He attacked Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford in the post, caught them flat-footed when he got the ball on the perimeter, and capped it off with that late triple.
While the Wolverines—namely LeVert—found their shot in the second half after going just 7/22 from the field in the first, Wisconsin's major edge in rebounding and turnovers proved to be the difference.
The Badgers coughed the ball up just twice; Michigan had seven turnovers in the first half alone. In a 59-possession slog, those mistakes proved quite costly, especially with Wisconsin generating lots of second-chance opportunities. The rebounding numbers would look much worse if Bo Ryan didn't play it conservative and start sending all five players back with a comfortable lead in the second half.
Wisconsin also prevented Michigan from getting the shots they wanted, especially in the first half. U-M only attempted 16 three-pointers, couldn't get to the rim, and had to settle for a series of long two-pointers. This showed up in the numbers. Nik Stauskas scored 11 points on 13 shot equivalents, going 0/2 from beyond the arc. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin were a combined 1/13 from the field, the only make a meaningless late three from Irvin.
While Glenn Robinson finished with ten points on ten shots and the Morgan/Horford pairing hit 3/4 FGs, the open inside looks that Michigan generated in the first matchup just weren't there. Just five of Michigan's 20 made field goals were assisted; none of those came in the first half.
Dropping a winnable game at home is a big blow to Michigan's chances of winning the Big Ten title outright, but it's far too early to count them out, especially if Michigan State trips up in one of their games (Nebraska, @Purdue) between now and Sunday's in-state battle at Crisler.
Make no mistake, though: this was a blown opportunity, and the state of the defense isn't pretty. After ceding 1.28 points per trip to Wisconsin, Michigan ranks 10th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, 11th in eFG% against, and 9th in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding. If there isn't improvement between now and the postseason, there won't be much madness in March for Michigan.
There's no way I'm recapping, uh, that on a Saturday afternoon. Consider this an open thread (as always, keep it civil) and try to keep in mind that Michigan bounced back pretty well from a similar outing last year.