It was cold outside, but even colder inside, for the Wolverines especially in the Crisler Center's downtown business district.
After a solid performance from beyond the arc against Penn State, Michigan went 0-for-8 from three in the first half of today's meeting with Richard Pitino's Minnesota Golden Gophers. Somehow, despite the Gophers shooting 46 percent from three in that timeframe, Michigan entered the half down just 27-25.
Michigan finished the game shooting 22 percent from three, with just two points from its bench. Somehow, that didn't matter, as the Wolverines grabbed their third Big Ten win, 62-57, on an 11-degree Ann Arbor afternoon.
Ricky Doyle (3-for-5, 7 points) and Caris LeVert (3-for-7, 8 points), paced Michigan in the first half, while Derrick Walkton and Zak Irvin were offensive non-factors. At one point, Irvin airballed a three, a perfect summation of his shooting woes; it's remarkable how quickly he's gone from being one of the most lethal shooters around to a guy whose shot looks so off.
The second half started promisingly, with Walton, LeVert and Irvin each hitting a jumper to give Michigan an early 32-21 edge. That was short-lived, however, as the Wolverines found themselves down nine with 11 minutes to play, as Michigan had no answer for Carlos Morris. At this juncture, Michigan would either rally or continue to struggle en route to an ugly home loss.
Following a Minnesota turnover, Michigan had a chance to cut into the lead, but clanked two jumpers off the iron. Luckily, Derrick Walton buried a three on the next possession (first ruled a two but changed after it was reviewed), but the Gophers answered with a Nate Mason wide open corner three, opened up by DeAndre Mathieu's dribble drive.
Down nine at the 8-minute TV timeout, the only thing keeping Michigan in the game was Minnesota's carelessness with the ball (11 turnovers). At some point, Michigan's shots just had to fall.
Michigan parlayed a Minnesota turnover into a fast break alley-oop from Walton to Irvin, cutting the deficit to five and igniting the sleepy Crisler Center crowd. Once more, Minnesota turned it over, giving Michigan a chance to make it a one-score game.
Walton, banged up or not, came through again.
The sophomore point guard penetrated and found Ricky Doyle down low, who pivoted and pivoted and converted an and-1 opportunity (naturally, banking the free throw). Michigan, on a 7-0 run, had something good going for the first time in a while.
Next, it was LeVert's turn, banking a shot from in close over the top of the 6-foot-11 Elliot Eliason. Unfortunately for Michigan, Spike Albrecht picked up his fourth foul with 5:10 to play, on what seemed like a fairly close block-charge call. Minnesota's Nate Mason split his free throws, making it 52-49, Gophers.
Despite shooting 3-for-16 from three to that point, the Wolverines had a chance.
Not surprisingly, another Minnesota turnover produced Michigan points; fouled in transition, irvin buried a pair of free throws to make it 52-51. After 36 minutes of play, it would all be decided in a four-minute mini-game.
Part of the surge can be attributed to the switch to the zone defense, which continued to confuse the Gophers. The Wolverines finally took the lead when Walton splashed a right wing triple; Michigan's other shooters couldn't connect from outside, but Walton seemed immune from that bout of clankiitis, having shot 3-for-4 from three-point land with that trey.
In perhaps the biggest play of the game to that point, Mitch King fouled LeVert behind the line as the shot clock expired. LeVert buried all three, but Andre Hollins answered with a triple at the other end.
Then, after Doyle was stripped at the other end, King fell on the loose ball, but lost it, finding no one to pass to and Minnesota having already used their timeouts. The ball went out off Minnesota, but Michigan couldn't cash in.
Then, you guessed it, Minnesota turned it over again. With under a minute to play, Michigan had a chance to make it a two-score game.
Out of a timeout, with under 10 on the shot clock, Walton lobbed one up; not a shot, mind you, but an oop, to one Ricky Doyle, who slammed it down for the exclamation point on a hold-serve win.
With Michigan shooting poorly from outside, the story of this one, of course, was Minnesota turnovers and Michigan's switch to the 1-3-1 in the second half, which completely stopped the Gophers offense cold.
With only two bench points, Michigan's starters carried the day, with four scoring in double digits, and a team-high 15 apiece from LeVert and Walton. Irvin, still struggling from outside (1-for-5 from three) did pitch in some key second half points.
Meanwhile, Minnesota turned it over 17 times, and Hollins shooting 4-for-14 from the field (King and Maurice Walker shot a combined 4-for-14, each 2-for-7). The Gophers shot 38.8 percent from the field as a team.
I stand by the "rickety" characterization from the preview post regarding Michigan's 3-1 Big Ten mark; rickety or not, though, 3-1 is 3-1.
Next up? The Ohio State Buckeyes on Tuesday, in Columbus, sure to be riled up after their defeat in Bloomington today.
For now, though, warmth can be found in the fact that Michigan rallied back from a 9-point deficit despite such poor outside shooting and getting handled on the boards (especially early in the second half). On paper, Michigan hasn't had the toughest Big Ten slate to date, but they've done just about as well as you could have expected on the heels of a brutal finish to the nonconference slate.
Either way, whatever happens the rest of the way, one thing is certain: this team doesn't quit.