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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Michigan wins NIT title

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

NEW YORK - Senior Bernard Robinson Jr. thought he had experienced it all during his four seasons at Michigan - a coaching change, two losing seasons, off-the-court problems and last year s postseason ban due to NCAA sanctions.

Never did Robinson envision his career ending the way it did last night - with a championship.

Daniel Horton scored 14 points, Dion Harris added 13 and Robinson played smothering defense on Quincy Douby - holding him to just two points - as the Wolverines captured the National Invitation Tournament title with a 62-55 victory over Rutgers before 16,064 fans at Madison Square Garden.

Afterward, Robinson sat in the locker room with a big smile on his face (NIT Notebook). He had the net draped around his neck while clutching the championship trophy.

“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my career would end like this. I think this win, this championship, will do wonders for the confidence of this team.

Michigan's Graham Brown grabs one of his five rebounds in front of Rutger's Sean Axani last night at Madison Sqaure Garden. Michigan's Graham Brown grabs one of his five rebounds in front of Rutger's Sean Axani last night at Madison Sqaure Garden.
ED BETZ / AP Enlarge

“This put Michigan basketball back on the map and I think people will start paying attention to the Wolverines again.”

For the fourth time in the last 20 years, Michigan s season ended with a victory. The Wolverines previously won NIT championships in 1984 and 1997 (it was later vacated), and the NCAA national championship in 1989.

“There s only one other championship to win besides this one, and that s to win the national championship, and we re going to shoot for that next year,” Horton said.

Horton, a sophomore guard who struggled through most of the regular season, was named tournament MVP, joining Tim McCormick (1984) and Robert Traylor (1997). He and Harris - a freshman guard who made the all-tournament team - combined for 56 points in Michigan s two games at the Garden.

“Daniel Horton was awesome down the stretch,” Robinson said.

So were the Wolverines (23-11), who won 10 of their last 13 games, including their five NIT wins.

“We are very proud of the accomplishment of winning this prestigious tournament,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I am thrilled for our team and our program.”

Douby, the Brooklyn kid who tallied a career-high 35 points in Rutgers semifinal overtime win over Iowa State, was held scoreless in the first half by Robinson as the Wolverines built a 32-25 lead at the intermission.

Douby finished 1-of-13 from the field - he was 0-for-8 in the opening 20 minutes - and 0-for-3 from 3-point range before fouling out late in the game, much to the chagrin of mostly red-clad Rutgers boosters.

“They did a great job on Douby,” Scarlet Knights coach Gary Waters said.

Robinson, Michigan s best defensive player, seemingly had a hand in the freshman s face every time he touched the ball.

“I just wanted to put as much pressure on him as I could, and I think I did that,” said Robinson, who added nine points and five rebounds. “I feel like my defense contributed to us winning this championship and that makes me feel good, because I pride myself on my defense.”

Michigan stretched its lead to 41-29 on Horton s 3-pointer at 16:42 of the second half, but Rutgers went on a 15-2 run and took a 44-43 lead on Ricky Shields driving layup at 10:55.

The lead went back and forth and was tied at 48 with 5:24 left when Michigan pulled away, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 14-7 the rest of the way despite poor free throw shooting. The Wolverines made just 6 of 12 free throws in the final 1:02 and finished just 16-of-27.

“Certainly we didn t make the free throws to keep the lead at a comfortable margin, but certainly we made enough to come out with the victory,” Amaker said.

Michigan improved to 5-0 all-time against Rutgers.

Herve Lamizana led the Scarlet Knights with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks, while Shields added 16 points. Rutgers made just 3 of 19 3-point tries.

“I have to give Michigan credit,” Waters said. “They defended the 3-point shot hard and they worked hard today. We just didn t execute on the offensive end.”

Contact Ron Musselman at: mussel@theblade.com or 419-724-6474.



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