ANN ARBOR - Two weeks ago, the team that was headed absolutely nowhere was Michigan.
Seven losses in a span of nine games, including a clunker of a performance in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, meant at that point the Wolverines were in a freefall down an elevator shaft.
Now that same group has bright lights, Times Square and the Big Apple on its itinerary.
After beating Miami 71-65 last night in the quarterfinal round of the National Invitation Tournament, Michigan is headed to New York City and Madison Square Garden as one of the last four teams remaining in the event.
"We had to dig ourselves out of a little bit of an emotional hole we were in," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said of his team's postseason revival.
"For us to win three games and get to the final four of this prestigious tournament, it takes character out of those kids, and we have that. They showed heart, and they've really taken it and run with it."
To get to Tuesday's NIT semifinal matchup against Old Dominion, Michigan (21-10) had to hold off an intense Miami charge in the closing moments last night.
It wasn't until Daniel Horton tossed in a floater on a drive with about two minutes left that things seemed secure. That basket gave Michigan a 10-point lead after Miami had closed within five with just four minutes left.
"We had to battle our way through with Miami," Amaker said. "They were a tough, scrappy bunch, and they fought until the end."
The Wolverines led 58-46 with just under seven minutes left after Lester Abram scored on a baseline drive. Miami put on a final rush and actually had possession of the ball and a chance to get within two of the Wolverines before Dion Harris buried a 3-pointer in transition to give Michigan a little room with
"Dion's been playing in a nice rhythm lately," Amaker said of Harris, who beat Notre Dame in the second overtime Monday night with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. "We're not asking him to be Superman, and he's done a good job contributing."
Miami's guards seemed to be losing their shooting edge in the second half, after hitting 5-of-11 3-pointers in the opening half. The Hurricanes trailed 47-34 with
13:25 to play after Courtney Sims converted inside for Michigan.
Miami cut the lead to just six with around nine minutes left as Anthony Harris sprinted loose for a basket on the break. As the final sequence played out, the Hurricanes (18-16) got desperate and had to foul, and Michigan made that expensive.
The Wolverines went 21-of-22 from the line on the night, with Sims getting the only miss.
"It was OK," Abram said of the Wolverines shooting, after going 10-of-10 from the line. "But Courtney messed it up. Our free throw shooting definitely carried us."
The Wolverines caught the travel-weary Hurricanes flat at the start. Miami, which played in Nebraska Monday night and beat Creighton 53-52, was behind 16-5 just six minutes into the game after a jump hook from Sims dropped in.
The Hurricanes quickly closed to within 19-15 as their talented guards buried a succession of 3-pointers, prompting Amaker to use a timeout and adjust his defense.
Horton's long 3-pointer from out front stretched Michigan's lead to 29-19, but another Miami spurt had the Hurricanes within 31-29 with five minutes left in the half. After Miami failed to convert a couple of opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, the Wolverines scored twice in the final minute for a 38-29 halftime lead.
Horton led Michigan with 19 points, while Chris Hunter scored 16 and Abram and Harris added 15 each. That foursome accounted for all but six of the Michigan points. Graham Brown added 10 rebounds.
"It feels great to have the opportunity to go back to New York City," Brown said. "We played there a couple of years ago and had a very successful trip, and we're hoping to repeat that."
Guillermo Diaz led Miami with 20 points.
The Hurricanes were just 5-of-6 from the foul line.
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