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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The South Dakota State men’s basketball team wanted to prove that like other NCAA tournament spoilers, it was the mid-major that could.
Instead, Michigan reiterated that it was, in fact, as much of a force that it wants the rest of the country to believe it is, at a compelling time of the year.
While the Wolverines have had their struggles in the last month, they’ve been known for the bulk of this season as a team that’s had a knack for falling behind and then pulling out wins.
It was no different Thursday in the No. 3 Wolverines’ 71-56 win over No. 14 South Dakota State in an NCAA tournament second-round South regional game at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Michigan will face No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth in a third-round game Saturday at the Palace. VCU beat injury-depleted Akron in the late game.
With Trey Burke, its star point guard, struggling to make shots — he finished with six points — Michigan (27-7) fell behind early, but Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III delivered.
“I knew that my shot wasn’t falling, so I just tried to contribute in different ways,” said Burke, who finished with six points. “But we had different hot hands tonight. Tim, Nik [Stauskas], Glenn, and Mitch [McGary]. Those guys were going.”
Hardaway and Robinson each scored a team-best 21 points, and Robinson scored Michigan’s first 11 points of the half to help it stretch a four-point lead to 11.
“He did a phenomenal job of picking and choosing when his shots were there,” Burke said. “He played his tail off. He crashed the boards and he missed, and he got a couple second opportunities to score, and that’s Glenn Robinson at his best.”
After South Dakota State took a 16-13 in the first half, both teams went through a stretch of 2:35 without a basket, until Stauskas hit a 3-pointer with 7:06 left to tie the game. That basket helped Michigan regain the lead in a methodical effort — the Wolverines went on a 14-3 run even as Burke continued to struggle.
Burke started the game 0 for 6 shooting, including 0 for 3 from behind the 3-point line, and didn’t score his first points until he hit a pair of free throws with 2:48 left in the half.
While the Wolverines prepared to go into halftime with a seemingly cushy lead, South Dakota State’s Brayden Carlson (20 points) converted an inbounds play, and his jumper cut Michigan’s lead to 30-26 with five seconds left in the half.
“South Dakota State played really good defense, particularly in the beginning of the game, and our guys didn’t see the gaps that we usually would see,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
Robinson’s 11 points in the first 3:43 of the second half helped Michigan take a 41-32 lead, and the Wolverines continued to shoot even after Burke left the game with an injury nine minutes into the second half, when he fell to the floor. Burke returned and said after the game he felt soreness in his back, elbow, tailbone, and “a piece of my head, but I’m fine.”
The Jackrabbits (25-10) kept pace with Michigan until midway through the second half, when Michigan took a lead of 17 points. South Dakota State went 12 for 25 from the floor in the first half, but finished 23 for 52.
“We held [Burke] in check, but their other guys stepped up, and they’re a really talented team,” Jackrabbits point guard Nate Wolters said. “They’re really tough to stop, and we couldn’t buy a bucket. We had open looks, and some of them looked good, but they didn’t fall down.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.