You can call it heart, moxie, courage, toughness, or bravery. Use whatever word you want, that was an impressive effort. Michigan battled for forty minutes and somehow, some way, pulled out the victory. Michigan trailed for most of the game in an arena where only two other teams had won all year but it didn’t matter. On this day, Michigan would not be denied.
Michigan was down by as many as nine points in the first half but they clawed their way back into the game and made it to halftime with only a three point deficit. I have to point out that Dave Merritt is quite the statistician, citing the fact that Michigan has led 7 of 10 road games this year at the half in his pregame speech. Minnesota came out on fire in the second half and marched their way to a 12 point lead with just over 13 minutes to play. I’m no different than the rest of you, I thought it was over. Thankfully I was dead wrong, this team had at least one more comeback left in the tank. Laval Lucas-Perry hit 3 three pointers in the span of two minutes and it was suddenly a 4 point game.
A pair of DeShawn Sims free throws with 5:02 remaining gave Michigan their first lead since the 18:31 mark when they led 4 to 3. This time, Michigan finished down the stretch. The disappointments of Ohio State at home or the trip to Iowa City were a thing of the past. Manny Harris made a huge three pointer to push Michigan’s lead to 5 with 2 minutes to play and he followed that up with a dime to DeShawn Sims on the fast break who threw down the game clinching dunk.
Make no mistake about it, this was Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims, and Laval Lucas-Perry’s day. The trio carried Michigan on their back for forty minutes. They scored 57 of 67 points, made 19 of 22 field goals, and scored all 35 second half points. Manny and DeShawn have done it all year, so that’s not surprising, but most had all but written Laval Lucas-Perry’s season off. He has struggled for a long time but tonight he was back in the zone; 6 of 7 shooting and 3 of 4 from behind the arc for a career high 19 points.
This certainly wasn’t a perfect effort, Minnesota dominated the glass. Minnesota rebounded 52.6% of their own misses and 83.3% of Michigan’s misses. Michigan only pulled down 13 rebound to Minnesota’s 30 and there wasn’t one Michigan player who had more than 2 rebounds. Michigan’s answer for their lack of size and offensive rebounding has been the same all year, win the turnover battle. Minnesota turned it over on 31.6% of their possessions to Michigan’s 15.8%. Minnesota hasn’t turned the ball over that often all year and the only team that did a better job holding onto it against their pressure defense was Michigan the first time around. Minnesota shot the ball very well from inside the arc but Michigan’s eFG% was a bit higher at 58.9% thanks to some their three point shooting (Minnesota was 2-10 compared to Michigan’s 9-22).
So what does this mean for Michigan’s tournament chances? A top 50 road win was the one thing missing from Michigan’s resume and it seems pretty hard to deny Michigan a spot in the field of 65. The resume is impressive: RPI of 40, SOS of 9, 19-12 overall record , 6 top 50 wins, 10 over the top 100, a .500 conference record, and plenty of signature wins. It seems like they have enough but anything can happen in the eight days leading up to Selection Sunday and I won’t believe it until I see our name on the TV screen next Sunday. My biggest worry is that Thursday game in the Big Ten tournament against Iowa or Indiana where there is nothing to gain but plenty to lose.
This is one that you just have to sit back and enjoy. Take a step back and look at how far this team has come in only one year. A year ago Michigan was wrapping up a 10-22 season, one of the worst in the program’s history. Now they are on the verge of finally making the NCAA tournament and are already 9 wins better. I don’t think I could be more proud of this entire team from top the bottom. Everyone has stepped up this year; the senior walk on point guards, “the Detroit Duo”, the 2-star recruits from Indiana, the transfers, the whole team. Michigan responded with their back to the wall all season but on an individual level it is almost more impressive. Just about every player on the roster has been benched, went through a slump, or made a crucial mistake at some point this year but they were always ready to step up when they were called on again.
- Manny Harris: Manny wanted it tonight, he started out missing some shots but they weren’t awful looks and he just kept playing. Manny finished with 14 points on 11 shots, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. Manny hit some huge shots but he also set up his teammates.Â His biggest plays of the game came down the stretch: securing a huge loose ball, hitting a huge three pointer, and huge dish for a DeShawn Sims slam. If you read any quotes from Manny there was no doubt that he knew how important this game was and he definitely stepped up.
- DeShawn Sims: DeShawn Sims became a man this year and he has carried this team on his back down the stretch to the tune of 23.3 ppg over the last three. Tonight was no different and Peedi did it all; he hit turnaround jumpers, finished in the lane and in transition, and even added a three pointer.
- Laval Lucas-Perry: Where have you been Mr. Lucas-Perry? That sweet stroke that we saw an eternity ago at the Palace was back: 6 of 7 shooting, 3 of 4 from deep, for a career high 19 points. Laval was the hero of this game and his best effort of the season couldn’t have come at a better time.
- Stu Douglass: Stu, like just about everyone else on the team, didn’t do much scoring but his 5 points were fourth best. Stu hit 1 of 3 from behind the arc and also had 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 turnovers. I thought Stu was very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and he also did a great job stripping the ball on the double team in the post.
- Zack Novak: Novak also had a first half three pointer but he was 1 of 5 and had 1 rebound, assist, and steal in 38 minutes. He was severely outmatched on defense but he kept fighting and he does all the little things. He might have made the most important play of the game when he stepped out on Westbrook at the end of the game and forced him to go left and fumble the ball.
- CJ Lee: The last guy to get in the scoring column. CJ is who he is, a walk on point guard, but you have to love him. CJ finished with 2 points, 2 assists, and a steal in 19 minutes and there is no doubt that his leadership helped this team down the stretch.
- Dave Merritt: Merritt struggled a lot in the first half, he got ripped right at midcourt and just looked out of sorts. In the second half it was actually Dave Merritt who was running the point during the start of Michigan’s comeback. Dave finished with 2 assists and 2 steals with only 1 turnover. No he isn’t spectacular but he did just enough today.
- Kelvin Grady: Kelvin continues to step up when he is called on, he lost most of his minutes down the stretch but he seems to have handled it well and kept his head up. Kelvin came in the first half when Michigan was down and seemed to be a bit of a calming force as he helped guide Michigan back into the game.
- Zack Gibson: 7 minutes, 2 boards, 2 blocks, and an assist for Gibson in 7 minutes. After struggling over the last few games I thought Gibson held his own out there when he came in for Peedi. Should Beilein have tried to go with Gibson and Sims at the same time? Maybe but he rode DeShawn to the victory so it is hard to question to decision.
- Shoes: Are the blue shoes with the yellow “laces” here to stay? They aren’t really laces but they seemed to work.