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The Wolverines traveled to The Barn to face fellow top 10 squad Minnesota in what was a crucial game for Michigan, looking to bounce back from Sunday's loss in Columbus. On the back of THJ's first half sharpshooting and an all-around tremendous team effort in the second half, the Wolverines scored a big conference win on the road to move to 17-1 (4-1) on the season.
Nik Stauskas scored not a single point in Columbus on Sunday; tonight, he scored a layup a minute into the game, curling around a screen and taking it smoothly from the elbow to the basket.
The next minute and a half or so wasn't as auspicious, as the Gophers buried two relatively wide open treys to go up 6-2 while Jordan Morgan got rejected around the basket twice by Trevor Mbakwe and the Wolverines fumbled around on a possession that ended in a shot clock violation. Mitch McGary came in and hit a nice elbow jumper, so it didn't really take long for me to think that maybe McGary should get equal (if not more) run than JMo tonight.
Luckily, the cold-blooded, world destroying Tim Hardaway Jr. showed up early tonight, calmly knocking in a pair of threes to help Michigan get back to 10 all before the first tv timeout. THJ continued firing, and had amassed 12 points on 4/5 shooting by the halfway point in the first half.
Trey Burke, meanwhile, was 1/4 with 3 points at the said 10-minute mark, when he was forced to briefly step out and change jerseys after his had been both torn and bloodied in just ten minutes of play. Burke returned, wearing No. 12, and helped Michigan dash out to a 10-point lead on back-to-back transition jumpers.
Unfortunately, even with Andre Hollins sitting on the bench for a long stretch with two fouls, the Gophers stormed back, cutting the lead to two. The game became somewhat of the proverbial track meet in spots, which you would think does not play to Michigan's strengths against a supremely athletic squad like Minnesota. Yet, Michigan found itself still up, 34-28, late in the first half, despite the fact that every possession seemed to go as such: 1) THJ hits outside shot 2) Burke/Stauskas/whoever misses early shot clock/transition jumper 3) blocked shot in the paint.
There's probably an easy explanation for this, that being: Minnesota turned the ball over a whopping 10 times in the first half. Although Trevor Mbakwe's four blocks mitigated Michigan's ability to get some easy buckets down low, the Gophers were more than willing to jumpstart Michigan's transition game on numerous occasions.
The two teams returned to the raised Barn floor for the second half, with the Gophers looking to value the ball a bit more and Michigan looking to get Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III involved (they went a combined 1/5 from the field for three points). The fantastically mustachioed Tubby Smith took a swig of water, and they were off. Assisted by Nik Stauskas, Jordan Morgan notched his first two points of the game, and then another two after Michigan eviscerated the Minnesota press.
The Wolverines flexed their muscles on the next possession. A discombobulated Gopher possession led to a late in the shot clock trey that Burke swatted. The Gophers recovered, threw up another prayer of a three, a miss, that Stauskas grabbed. Immediately hitting Burke, streaking down the left side of the court like Denard Robinson, No. 12 lobbed one up to THJ from about 40 feet out. The pass was from such a distance that the camera man didn't even have a chance to react, and we were only privy to the aftermath of Hardaway, hanging from the rim.
The lead was back up to 10, with Michigan looking to extend the lead and perhaps begin to put the game out of reach in the ensuing minutes. The Gophers had continued to turn the ball over early in the second frame; three times by the 17:18 mark, in fact.
A Burke three from NBA range and a monster GRIII thunderdunk extended the lead to 49-36 with Rodney Williams stepping to the line for two. On the ensuing possession, Burke hit a back cutting Stauskas, leading to a pair of free throws after the latter got fouled on another missed dunk. Speaking of, I'm pretty sure Stauskas' eDUNK% is the worst in the nation, and yes, that is a real stat that I definitely did not just make up.
But wait, there's more! Stauskas hit a three in the secondary break, GRIII executed a tremendous 360 slam in the open floor and, yes, Nik Stauskas went to the basket and slammed one down. Michigan was up 60-42 at the 11:30 mark, and were truly cruising, as the Gophers seemed to have no real answers for anything that Michigan was doing.
After contributing a combined three points in the first half, Stauskas, Morgan and Robinson III pitched in 17 in just nine second half minutes of play. Meanwhile, Minnesota had at this point added six more turnovers to its name; even if you're shooting 75% from beyond the arc (as Minnesota was), it doesn't help you if you, you know, don't have the ball.
Even Spike Albrecht pitched in, driving to the right side and lofting a tear drop perfectly off the glass and in for two. Michigan was also just a foul away from the 1-and-1; just about everything was going Michigan's way.
However, a 5-0 spurt from Minnesota brought the lead back to just 12. Against a team like Minnesota, capable of getting up and down the floor like an Aston Martin, you can't quite rest on your laurels. If Michigan intended on doing so, Minnesota intended to make them pay for it, as an Austin Hollins trey extended the run to 8-0 and chipped at the lead even further; the Wolverines were up by just nine now, even after the aforementioned Michigan supernova of offense.
The Gopher defense tightened up a bit, and Michigan's lead started to seem far less secure than one would think. However, up 10, the Wolverines flexed their overall talent once again, this time with Caris LeVert knocking in a three from the left wing with the aplomb of a senior.
With Minnesota in the double bonus after a quick pair of unfortunate McGary fouls, the final five minutes were all set to process at a snail's pace. As predicted, this part of the game took about as long as the rest of the game combined (not really, but it sure felt that way).
The Gophers cut the lead to seven late (with Mbakwe on the bench with four fouls), as Michigan entered survival mode late. A majority of Michigan's offensive possessions late were spent with Burke dribbling around up top, bleeding clock. After a frenetic stretch late featuring a few somewhat questionable no-calls for each team, the Wolverines made it to the intention foul stage with a seven point lead, extended to nine after a pair of GRIII free throws.
Despite Minnesota's late push, the Gophers never got closer than seven. The Wolverines won the first half and absolutely dominated the first seven or eight minutes of the second half, which ended up being just enough on this night.
Playing a top 10 conference foe on the road, the phrase "just enough" is like the purest poetry after the clanking, discordant prose of Sunday's game in Columbus. Those two words never sounded so good.
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