DAYTON — Once again, the Michigan basketball team found itself in a tight game with the season on the line. And once, again, the Wolverines rode the coattails of late heroics to play another day.
Despite foul trouble, a lack of 3-point prowess and substantial scoring droughts, Michigan pulled it together to close out another close win, downing Tulsa late, 67-62 to advance to the NCAA Tournament first round in Brooklyn.
Michigan (23-12) will face Notre Dame after yet another grind-it-out victory. The Wolverines shot just 6 of 25 from 3-point range, but finally pulled away from the Golden Hurricane (20-12) with a 3-pointer by Zak Irvin with 53 seconds to go.
Though the final result was pretty, the first half was ugly. Both teams shot a combined 35.1 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point range. The Wolverines found themselves down, 16-9, before going an a 19-4 run to close the half. Derrick Walton Jr. scored the final 10 points of the half for Michigan to put his team up eight at the half.
Though the Golden Hurricane only scored 20 points in the first 20 minutes, they stormed back, capitalizing on the Wolverines’ foul trouble and turning the game into a back-and-forth affair. With junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. sidelined with fouls, Michigan struggled to create on offense and allowed Shaq Harrison to score 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
MVP: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. In the first half, Walton looked like the hero, scoring the team’s final 10 points over the half’s final 3:48. But when Walton picked up his third foul, it was Abdur-Rahkman’s turn to take over. The sophomore guard was able to create opportunities for himself and others, leading the team with 16 points and keeping pace with Tulsa when his teammates struggled. His aggression stood in stark contrast to the rest of his teammates, as Abdur-Rahkman attempted 8 free throws.
It was over when… Irvin’s three in the final minute put Tulsa in foul-and-shoot position, and key rebounds and clutch free throws closed it out for the Wolverines.
Key stat: Across the board, the game proved to be an even matchup. But whether it was Tulsa’s mistakes or a surprisingly-stingy Michigan defense, the Wolverines ended the game with a 20-6 edge in points off turnovers. Michigan only forced 11 turnovers, but was exceptionally efficient with nine fast-break points.
Unsung hero: Moritz Wagner. When junior forward Mark Donnal ran into foul trouble and sophomore forward Ricky Doyle ran into trouble overall, freshman forward Moritz Wagner was there to pick up the slack. In a surprising 13 first-half minutes, the gently-used Wagner totaled a career-high five rebounds, four blocks, a steal and four points. He also thrived against Tulsa’s smaller and more athletic forwards, using his advantage in both speed and size.
Room for improvement: Michigan struggled from the perimeter, only knocking down six 3-pointers. The Wolverines will be relieved to win a NCAA Tournament game shooting 24% from long distance, but will need a better shooting night versus Notre Dame.