The No. 3 Michigan Wolverines grinded out a 64-63 win against the No. 6 Houston Cougars to advance to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Los Angeles. For much of the game the Wolverines struggled to do much on offense, but freshman Jordan Poole drilled a three at the buzzer to absolutely steal the win.
Michigan will be playing during the second weekend for the second-straight year and has exceeded this season’s expectations. Still, it feels like the Maize and Blue have yet to reach full speed in the NCAA Tournament, especially on offense. The Wolverines will have to look much sharper if they want to keep moving forward.
Just like Thursday night’s game against Montana, Michigan started the game ice-cold on offense. The Wolverines were 0-for-6 from deep and looked stagnant early on before Duncan Robinson drained their first field goal almost six minutes into the game. However, the defense picked up where they left off from the First Round and helped Michigan to a 17-11 lead at the midway point of the half.
Houston’s Rob Gray kept the margin close, nailing a couple threes to follow up on a 39-point performance against San Diego State. Michigan labored to come up with any sort of consistency with the ball, settling for contested jumpers on most possessions. As a result, the Wolverines found themselves in a 28-28 tie at halftime.
For the second-straight game, there were limited offensive positives in the first half. Aside from Robinson’s three triples, Michigan was 1-for-13 from deep and just 30 percent from the floor. Mo Wagner struggled again, picking up two fouls and scoring just one basket. The only highlights were on defense, as Gray was held to a 2-for-11 half by Zavier Simpson and company.
The second half began much like the first, with Michigan piecing together enough baskets to keep the game close. Three pointers kept missing, and the Wolverines began picking up a healthy number of fouls. At the 12-minute timeout, Michigan trailed 42-41 with eight fouls already in the half.
Houston continued to work through Gray, and the Cougar lead grew to six. Wagner hit a three but picked up his fourth foul with more than eight minutes remaining, further adding to the German’s rough Tournament. With the fouls mounting and no shots falling, the Wolverines looked on the verge of defeat down five with seven minutes remaining.
A lucky-bounce three by Charles Matthews and two free throws from Jon Teske — on the same possession, somehow — tied the game at 51. Two more free throws by Teske and a pair by Robinson gave Michigan a 55-54 going into the last TV timeout that it quite frankly did not deserve.
The teams traded baskets and the lead on throughout the final minutes. Houston hit two free throws to take the lead with 44 seconds remaining and Matthews missed a putback attempt twenty seconds later. Houston split the ensuing free throws for a 63-61 advantage.
Michigan had a good chance to tie the game in the dying seconds, but Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed a layup and the Wolverines were forced to foul. Houston missed both free throws, giving Michigan one last opportunity.
And that was all they needed. JORDAN. POOLE. GAME.