CHICAGO - After Michigan and Minnesota had presented a most convincing case for the abolition of morning basketball, the Wolverines prevailed in the sea of misfires by a 49-40 score here yesterday, in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.
The 11 a.m. start matched the No. 8 seeded Wolverines against No. 9 Minnesota, and neither seemed to find an offensive comfort zone at any time. Michigan shot 27 percent from the field in victory and got 19 of its 49 points at the foul line, while Minnesota shot 31.8 percent.
The victory by Michigan gives the Wolverines a quick rematch with No. 1 ranked Ohio State in today's quarterfinal round. The Buckeyes had to hold their breath and grind out a 65-61 decision to get past Michigan in Ann Arbor just six days ago in the regular season finale.
"We get to play the No. 1 team in the country, and that's an opportunity you look forward to," Michigan senior forward Brent Petway said after the win over Minnesota at the United Center, home of the NBA's Chicago Bulls.
"Coming into tournament time, it doesn't matter what you've done; it all starts with the first game of the tournament."
Michigan (21-11) will likely prefer to forget everything about the first game, except the fact the Wolverines came out on top. Five minutes into the matchup with Minnesota, Michigan had a not-so-convincing 5-2 lead, and with less than five minutes to play in the first half, it was just 12-12.
"Both teams were struggling to put it in the basket," Michigan senior Dion Harris said, "but I don't think we worried about it too much. The main thing was to try and get some easy baskets, since both teams struggled to shoot it today."
A steal and fastbreak layup by Harris allowed Michigan to get on top by four, and that was the lead at the half, 20-16.
Michigan stretched the advantage to 15 about midway through the second half, mostly by converting its free throws. Minnesota (9-22) started to chip away at that lead, and had it down to 43-37 with five minutes to play after a 3-pointer by Jamal Abu-Shamala.
But the Wolverines, who did not have a field goal in the final 5:33 of the game, held on and hit six free throws down the stretch to put it away. Michigan's Lester Abram, Jerret Smith, and Harris went a combined 5-of-25 from the field in the game.
"Obviously, it was not a pretty game in a lot of ways," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said, "but we had to gut it out. We're pleased to have a chance to continue in this tournament."
Harris was the only Michigan player in double figures with 14 points, but the Wolverines did get 13 points from their bench, with DeShawn Sims adding eight points and seven rebounds.
"I thought our bench gave us a great boost today," Amaker said.
The Wolverines, who seemingly need to play their way into the NCAA tournament with a strong showing here, hope to use yesterday's game as a springboard into the showdown with the Buckeyes, who had a first-round bye.
"There's a number of different theories on it," Amaker said about any perceived advantage or disadvantage to playing on successive days. "I've been of the mind-set that we want to try and get some momentum in the tournament. Now we'll see if we can use it to our advantage."
Contact Matt Markey at: