Here we go.
Michigan took the floor this evening looking to avoid its fate from two seasons ago, in which they were bounced by underdog Ohio University. This time around, Michigan carried a 2-seed into its first round matchup against the SoCon tournament champion Wofford Terriers.
Wofford jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but it was all --well, mostly-- Michigan after that. Michigan coasted to a 34-20 halftime lead. Glenn Robinson III did what he should do against a squad with one guy taller than him, scoring 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting and generally looking like that one guy in elementary school who is way taller than everyone else. It was an easy 11 points, a great sign for Michigan and its tournament run.
However, the first half wasn't without its deficiencies. Wofford played some excellent defense, resulting in a whopping eight turnovers for Michigan in the first 20 minutes. I don't know how many times that has happened this season, but it can't be too many. Although the Terriers lacked size, they made up for it in spots with footspeed and general tenacity. Wofford star G Karl Cochran had two steals in the first frame.
Speaking of Cochran, shutting him down was the major talking point heading into the game, as Wofford's offense lives and dies with him. Well, he scored just six points on a very inefficient 3-for-11 from the field. Even worse for Wofford, he was completely off from beyond the arc (0-for-5). The Terriers' three-point shooting was one of the things I thought could hurt Michigan, but they went 0-for-8 in the first half from downtown.
So, would Michigan keep pushing early in the second half, or would they let Wofford fight and scrap their way back into the game?
Going into the second, the only important foul issues for either team were two on Cochran and two on Caris LeVert, who had a very quiet first half, scoring-wise (1-for-3, 3 points)--he did pitch in four boards and two assists, though.
Michigan held the Terriers scoreless for the first 4+ minutes of the second half, extending the lead to 38-20. However, the Terriers answered with a 4-0 spurt of their own, including an in-rhythm jumper for Cochran, a bad sign for Michigan.
Wofford poured in four more unanswered points to cut the Michigan lead to 10. After a slow first half, Cochran seemed to be finding himself, especially after a strong drive down the heart of the lane for a pretty floater shot.
This was clearly Wofford's run; Michigan needed to issue a response before that run generated team-wide confidence, the sort that gives previously anonymous players the ability to knock down shots and make big plays in pressure situation when they otherwise wouldn't (i.e. the Big Dance in a nutshell).
Meanwhile, Michigan started ice cold from the field, going 2-for-11 to start the half, with one of those being a Jon Horford slam on a precision Derrick Walton bounce pass from the top of the key. It's always nice when those outside shots go in, as they often do for the Wolverines--but, when they don't, the offense is a smattering of clangs and rings as the ball careens off of the back iron.
Needless to say, while many of those looks were wide open, Michigan needed to find a way to generate points inside the arc. Given the size and athleticism gap, Michigan could find them if they wanted to, they would just have to work a little harder for them.
Cochran picked up his third foul with 9:45 to play, but at that point fouls no longer meant a trip to the bench for him. Shortly thereafter, Cochran buried a triple from the top of the key to extend Wofford's run to 13-2. On the other end, Zak Irvin clanged another triple off of the iron.
Fortunately for Michigan, Spike Albrecht hit a diving Jordan Morgan, who completed a traditional three-point play, pushing Michigan's lead back to 10 with over eight minutes left.
Michigan's outside shooting continued to fail it, however. Wofford wasn't going away, eve if they struggled to cut the lead past the 10-point mark.
Finally, LeVert buried a critical triple to give Michigan a 50-35 lead with about four minutes to play, part of a 7-0 Michigan run. Wofford scored on the other end out of a timeout, but Walton added another three to keep Michigan's collective foot on the gas pedal.
With just over two minutes left, Cochran fired a three that landed off the mark; barring a major collapse, Michigan was in the clear.
It wasn't pretty, but Michigan did what it needed to do to Win The Game. In the Big Dance, that's all that counts.
Morgan, Stauskas and Robinson finished in the double digits in points, more than enough to overcome a Wofford squad whose star guard shot 1-for-10 from three.
With the victory, the Wolverines move on to the second (third?) round, where they will face the winner of tonight's Texas-Arizona State matchup.