It wasn’t always pretty, but Michigan is on a plane headed to New York City instead of packing up to head home one final time. The Wolverines outlasted Tulsa in Dayton on Wednesday night in a game that was everything you’d expect from a First Four matchup of bubble teams. It was frustrating and marred by poor shooting, but still filled with excitement until the closing seconds.
The first half featured a woeful offensive performance from both teams until Michigan used a methodical 19-4 run over the final 9:27 to seize momentum. It only took 150 seconds of the second half for that momentum to evaporate. Tulsa immediately tied the game and hamstrung Michigan point guard Derrick Walton to the bench with foul trouble for the remainder of the game.
From there the game went back-and-forth with both teams exchanging runs, missed threes and defensive breakdowns. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman carried Michigan through the bulk of the second half only to give way for Zak Irvin to play hero in the final minute.
Irvin’s three-pointer with :57 seconds left was the difference, but Michigan got double-digit scoring production from four of five starters and a critical emotional lift off the bench from Moritz Wagner.
Make no mistake about it, this team still has the same flaws it has demonstrated throughout the season. But it’s starting to develop a new-found sense of resiliency and toughness. Michigan players who used to fold in critical situations have started to embrace them and it has paid off against Northwestern, Indiana and now Tulsa.
The Wolverines have resuscitated their season three times in the last four games while trailing in the final minute — a phenomenon that seems to have instilled just a bit more belief across the board.
Michigan’s offense managed to top a point per possession, but only barely. The first 10 minutes of play were almost unbearable to watch as the Wolverine offense ground into the ground with missed shot after missed shot. The second half was better, but the idea that suddenly the three-pointers are just going to start falling becomes harder and harder to believe. The Wolverines made just 6-of-25 long range efforts for their third-straight sub-30% three-point shooting night.
Tulsa scored just 20 points in 30 first half possessions (.67 PPP), but rang up 42 points in 33 second half possessions (1.27 PPP). Despite the second half issues, Tulsa was the first team that Michigan held below a point per possession since Purdue on Feb. 13th. Over its prior 15 games, the Wolverines had only accomplished that feat twice.
In the second half, Tulsa realized that Michigan had no answer for Shaquille Harrison — especially with Walton on the bench. Harrison drove his way to the basket all night and finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Despite its inability to contain Harrison, Michigan deserves some credit for sticking to its principles against the other four Tulsa players on the floor. Harrison’s teammates were just 15-of-43 (34.8%) from the floor with 9 turnovers. Those turnovers were perhaps the most critical element of the night. Michigan managed to turn Tulsa over just enough and converted 11 Hurricane giveaways into 20 points in the opposite direction. The Wolverines’ fast breaks weren’t always pretty, but they usually resulted in two-points.
Michigan was headed to the Dayton airport tonight to head to Brooklyn where it’ll face Notre Dame (9:40 p.m., CBS). The Irish have one of the elite offenses in the country, but they also have a defense ranked 64 spots behind Michigan’s. The early KenPom spread is Notre Dame by 2 (73-71, 55%) in a game that feels like an inevitable shoot out.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner was phenomenal, recording a team-high +12 in his 22 minutes. He played more minutes than any of Michigan’s bigs and probably deserved even more. He was disruptive defensively (4 blocks, 1 steal) and active offensively (4 points, 1 assist) while grabbing 8 rebounds. He completely changed the complexion of the game when he was on the floor and Notre Dame looks like another game where he could play a key role.
- Zak Irvin: I’m not going to argue that Irvin’s shot selection needs work and that he needs to stop over-dribbling himself into trouble (3 turnovers), but he hit some huge shots tonight. He finished the game with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting (2-5 3pt) and flat out stuck some ridiculously tough mid-range twos. Add in the game-winning three and it turned out to be a strong performance for Irvin.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: We’ve talked and talked about how Michigan needs someone that can deck the ball and create offense when things break down and Abdur-Rahkman is by far the best that Michigan has in that department. He was just 5-of-16 (0-3 3pt), but he got to the free throw line 8 times and hit some huge shots including an incredible bank shot in the final five minutes. His perimeter shot wasn’t falling, but he did a great job of attacking closeouts once he realized that he didn’t have the three-point stroke.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was just 2-of-5 from three-point range, but got on the stat sheet in other ways. He grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds and scored 13 points including 3-of-5 shooting inside the arc and a team-high 4 assists. Michigan could really use one of those vintage 5-of-7 three-point shooting nights from Robinson, but his growth in other areas paid off tonight.
- Derrick Walton: Walton was the reason that Michigan took control of the game in the first half, but his foul trouble was the reason that Tulsa got right back in the game. He was never able to find his rhythm again in the second half (2 points, 0-2 fg, 1 turnover) and Michigan will need more for him as it goes up against a former Wolverine target in Demetrius Jackson.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had a critical second-half putback, but just looked a step or two slow against Tulsa’s quicker big men.
- Ricky Doyle: Late defensive rotations are killing Doyle and I have a hard time justifying playing him ahead of Wagner right now. Despite his struggles defensively, Doyle did make his only field goal attempt and knock in a pair of free throws in five minutes.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins was 0-of-2 from the floor in 13 minutes, but did grab four rebounds.
- Kam Chatman: Chatman managed to put up 5 shot attempts in one 4 minute spell during the first half and didn’t see the floor again in the second.