ANN ARBOR - Michigan had too much and too many for an undermanned Texas-El Paso team as the Wolverines rolled to an 82-67 win in a first-round game of the NIT last night. Michigan came at UTEP in waves, and quickly overwhelmed the Miners.
Using 10 players for substantial minutes, Michigan (19-10) showed it had recovered from the disappointment of an early exit in the Big Ten tournament, and from the sting of not making the NCAA tournament field. Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said his team is recharged for a potential run in the NIT, a tournament the Wolverines won in 2004.
"For us right now, as I told our kids, we've moved on from what happened in the past," Amaker said. "We're focused on what's in front of us. We put in the effort, and we are looking forward."
Amaker said the Wolverines, who now face Notre Dame, a first-round winner over Vanderbilt, at Crisler Arena on Monday at 7:30, got a lift from the five seniors he opened the game with.
"I decided to start our seniors, and kind of put it on their shoulders a little bit to be responsible for having us ready to play," Amaker said.
"Our kids showed a lot of character. A lot of people were asking, or predicting whether they were going to have enough spirit to play, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that performance."
In the first half, Amaker used wholesale substitutions much like hockey line changes. The Wolverines led 15-9 on a fast-break dunk by Brent Petway with about 14 minutes left in the first half, but after a fresh five entered the game, Michigan stretched the lead to 20-9 a minute and a half later.
"I thought we would have to play a lot of people to stay fresh and play the way we wanted to play against them," Amaker said.
The Michigan lead reached 14 in the first half, and the Wolverines allowed it to yo-yo in the first part of the second half before putting the Miners away by answering every UTEP run with critical baskets, and critical stops. UTEP used just six players for the majority of the game and wore down against the Michigan pressure.
"I thought that we played well defensively," Amaker said after his team forced 19 UTEP turnovers.
"And I thought that allowed us to play well offensively. We had a terrific defensive performance, and I thought we were very active, and the kids shared the ball very well."
UTEP (21-10) put together a run and closed to within 61-53 with just under 11 minutes left in the game after a fast-break basket by Edgar Moreno, but the Wolverines responded quickly and a Chris Hunter 3-pointer from deep on the wing made it 70-53 with eight minutes to play.
Michigan rolled from there, led by Hunter's 20 points and eight rebounds, and 18 points from Dion Harris. Daniel Horton added 14 with nine assists. Jason Williams, who had UTEP's first triple-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in Tuesday's opening-round win over Lipscomb, led the Miners with 25 points.
The Wolverines gambled a lot out front defensively, opting to double-team the UTEP guards and look to force turnovers. After that pressure produced a steal with about eight minutes left in the half, Horton was off on the break with a UTEP defender at his side. Horton flipped the ball up over his head to a trailing Petway for a dunk and a 28-17 advantage.
The Wolverines, playing in front of a sparse crowd of 4,400, stretched the lead to as many as 14, and were up 44-34 at the half as Horton, the leading free throw shooter in the country at 93.8 percent, split a pair.
As a No. 1 seed in the NIT, Michigan, if victorious against Notre Dame on Monday, would host a third-round quarterfinal game on Wednesday.