Let him keep shooting. Eventually it'll go down.
I have to imagine that over the last few weeks Beilein's said that about half a dozen Michigan players. What choice did he have. His players and system revolve around shooters. From Stu Douglas to Anthony Wright to Zack Novak to Matt Vogrich and so forth. This is not a pound the gut, slash the lane team. It's not built that way. So as the season has worn on, Michigan has kept shooting. Praying that eventually those shots will find twine rather than rim.
On Sunday, those prayers were answered.
For the first time all season, Michigan played a complete game. No defensive lapses on good players. No throwing the ball away. The bench contributed more than minutes. The offense executed the way it was designed to. As a result, Michigan came away with a 68-63 win over #15 UConn, just the Wolverines' second win over a ranked opponent all season.
What was most impressive about the win was that at no point during the game did Michigan seem out of control, or lost. Certainly there was the errant pass or single defensive lapse, but unlike previous games the Wolverines never allowed small mistakes to snowball or multiply. They had an answer for every error, and made sure they not only corrected there mistakes but compensated for them in dramatic fashion.
On paper, this was not a team Michigan should succeed against. UConn's frontline had almost half a foot on most of Michigan's players. They were dominant inside. They were speedy outside. Well, let's face it, they were UConn. Well rounded and capable at every position of dropping 20 on you. Michigan was not supposed to be that kind of team. The load has been carried almost exclusively by Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Until Sunday afternoon, no one had been able to buy a bucket, much less contribute with any regularity.
But Sunday was different. While Harris was Harris, Sims was not. DeShawn never looked comfortable against UConn's big men. Outside of one nice move to the basket, he played small on the offensive end. Settling for jump shots and getting his layups when his defender fell down or Novak provided him with a screen. Under normal circumstances, that should've cooked the Wolverines.
It didn't. In particular two unlikely contributors emerged. The obvious candidate being Anthony Wright. Often out of position this season, Wright seemed at home banging against UConn's big men. As Novak picked up some early fouls, Wright came off the bench to groans and returned to it with a standing ovation awaiting him. When Michigan most needed a bucket, Ant delivered a trey. Then another. Then another. His shooting seemed to be contagious. All of a sudden Stu Douglas knocked down a critical three. Then Laval Lucas Perry did the same on a pull up trey off a fast break. As LLP back pedalled up the court he turned to the bench pumping his fist, and instead of some sort of primal yell or surprised look, there was a singular confidence on his face. Those shots were falling. We can beat these guys. All from one guy draining an unlikely three pointer, the team had come alive.
The second man of the hour is our favorite Michigan player of all time, Zack Gibson. Honky Magic was absolutely on fire Sunday. As Sims struggled and picked up early fouls, Gibson stepped in and played at Sims' highest level. He was dominant in the paint, blocking shots and forcing turnovers. White Moses had the block of the game as he rotated over perfectly to help Stu down low, crushing a lay up attempt and sending the ball into the fourth row of seating. It was awesome. And then there was the Kareem style skyhook. Pounding the glass on both ends of the court. Gibby gave us 17 minutes on Sunday. But from where I was sitting, he gave this team a glimmer of hope for the rest of the season. Michigan's been waiting for someone to step up in crunch time, and he did. If his contribution can carry forward, Michigan might have a chance in the Big Ten Tournament to make some noise.
But even with all the shots from LLP, Douglas, Manny, and Wright, Michigan still found itself on a seesaw with UConn. Up two. Down two. They kept shooting. Some went in, some didn't. Earlier in the game, SCM told me that Novak had to keep shooting and that eventually they'd start going down. We needed him. And dammit, he'd come through.
Those words proved prophetic. With the score locked at 58, Novak found space at the top of the key and Manny Harris found him. As Novak lifted off, you could tell this one wasn't missing. The arc, the rotation, everything was perfect. And when the ball found the bottom of the twine, you could almost see the shooting demons that have plagued Novak all season stream from his body. He knew that it'd fall. All he needed was to keep shooting.
After watching Michigan on Sunday, it's good to know we won't have to worry about that.