The Michigan Wolverines came out victorious in their opening round NIT game, defeating the Toledo Rockets at home, 90-80.
The Rockets finished first in the MAC this season, ending the regular season with a 27-7 record and a 16-2 record in conference. Michigan has struggled against MAC schools this season, needing overtime to beat Ohio and losing to Central Michigan, a game that really hurt the Wolverines’ tournament resume. In those two games, the Wolverines got outrebounded by a combined margin of 93-78.
While the Wolverines got off to a bad start, they shot the lights out in the second half. Here are some takeaways from the win.
Second half run helps tremendously
After a so-so first half, the Wolverines got off to a hot start in the second half, with back-to-back-to-back threes from Joey Baker, Dug McDaniel and Kobe Bufkin kick-starting a 13-4 run. Michigan shot the ball exceptionally well in the final 20 minutes, making 58.2% of its field goals and 56.5% of its threes.
On that run, the Wolverines showed the same flashes we’ve seen all season that has helped them play elite teams like Virginia and Purdue. Unfortunately, those flashes haven’t lasted long enough.
A new Michigan career-high from Joey Baker
Baker got inserted into the starting lineup with Jett Howard out with an ankle injury, and he played pretty well.
He got off to a hot shooting start, scoring 10 points and making two of his first three threes. He ended the game with 21 points and shot 72.7% from the field.
His 21 points are a new career-high as a Wolverine. This was his sixth time scoring double-digits, with the last one coming in the win against Michigan State.
Watching from courtside, you can tell he’s a really smart player who knew how to get to his spots. I love how he ran the floor, which got him a few easy buckets. I wish he would have shot the ball a little more consistently this season, but Michigan will miss his scoring punch next season.
Per the game broadcast, we may see more of Baker next season in Ann Arbor.
Interesting note on the broadcast tonight that Joey Baker wants to apply for a waiver to get back his freshman year of eligibility.— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) March 15, 2023
Another solid outing from Kobe Bufkin
Michigan’s most improved player keeps showing out, leading the Wolverines with 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
Bufkin got so many clutch buckets in the second half to help the Wolverines put this one away. He’s played exceptionally this season, especially in the last month. I’m sure Michigan fans hope he comes back to school but the way he’s been playing, he seems like a shoe-in to be a first round pick.
A poor defensive performance
The Wolverines got off to a bad start and the Rockets capitalized, making seven of their first nine shots. They let the Rockets score 80 points in this one. It looked like Michigan had a few miscommunications, leaving more than a few shooters open.
Ultimately, a big portion of defense comes down to effort. Aside from Bufkin and Terrance Williams II, a lot of Wolverines looked like they didn’t want to guard, especially in that first half.
Too many turnovers
The Wolverines have done a decent job taking care of the ball all season — they only average 10.1 a game, a mark that’s 16th-best in the country — but turning the ball over too much has cost them lately.
They had 13 turnovers in this one, including eight in the first half. That will bite you in the ass in close games, but their offense carried them to victory in this one.
First minutes for Youssef Khayat in a while
Khayat got his first minutes since the Northwestern win on Feb. 2, coming in for five minutes in the first half. He showed some solid passing, including a solid feed inside to Dickinson. But he struggled defensively, looked a little confused and picked up three fouls in a short timeframe.
The Lebanese youngster was highly touted heading into this season, but he’s still got some work to do. He just needs more reps.
No Jett Howard in this one
Howard didn’t suit up for this one, as he was out with an ankle injury. He is projected to be a top-20 pick in the upcoming draft. You got to wonder if we’ve seen him play for Michigan for the final time.
Michigan will travel to Vanderbilt for the NIT’s Sweet Sixteen.