MILWAUKEE — An 18-point lead evaporated to 10, and then got whittled to eight. And for a brief moment, the University of Michigan men’s basketball team — or at least their faithful at the Bradley Center — may have had the thought of packing their bags and heading back to Ann Arbor.
That thought became fleeting.
After a poor shooting effort for the bulk of the second half, the No. 2 Wolverines used a seven-point burst with less than seven minutes left to help itself to a 57-40 win Thursday over No. 15 Wofford in a second-round NCAA Tournament Midwest regional game.
“We knew we had one last run left in us to close the game out,” Michigan guard Caris LeVert said. “We just tried to give it everything we had, on both ends of the floor.”
Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, and LeVert hit consecutive shots — including LeVert’s 3-pointer with 4:19 left — to stretch a 43-35 lead to 50-35. Those three shots became providential; the Wolverines were an uncharacteristic 3 for 15 from the floor through the bulk of the second half.
“We know that we can knock down shots,” said LeVert, whose team finished 22 of 46 shooting. “Even if it’s not going in, we’ve got to keep shooting. We’ve got a lot of capable shooters.”
Those capable shooters, however, weren’t productive. Despite a 34-20 lead at halftime, the Wolverines opened the second half 2 for 11 from the floor, only punctuated by Nik Stauskas’ 3-pointer three minutes into the second half — his 1,000th point in his two seasons at Michigan — and Jon Horford’s dunk nearly five minutes later.
“[Wofford] had a great containing man-to-man defense,” said LeVert, whose team faces either No. 10 Arizona State or No. 7 Texas on Saturday.
That forced the Wolverines (26-8) to turn to its defense in order to maintain its lead.
“I was a coach that was very concerned about how well they would guard us, and they did,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, whose team was 8 for 22 shooting in the second half. “And very concerned about their 3-point shooting. They guarded us well and we did a terrific job on guarding all their three-point weapons. We were able to get a win basically with our defense today, and that’s something that a lot of people wouldn’t say if they watched us play this year.”
Morgan agreed with Beilein: his team’s defense became pivotal as the game progressed.
“We just kept sticking to our principles, and the same shots that we had early in the second half didn't necessarily fall, they fell for us,” Morgan (10 points) said. “I think we played good defense all game long, made them make tough shots and in sticking with that, it eventually went in our favor."
Wofford (20-13) went 0 for 8 in the first half and finished 1 for 19 from 3-point range Thursday.
“Some nights, unfortunately, the ball just doesn't drop in the basket,” said Karl Cochran, who led Wofford with 17 points. “I will give some credit to the style of defense that Michigan played, though. They were really intense all night. Some nights aren't as good as others. Unfortunately, we just faced a tough night from the three-point line.”
Michigan opened its lead to 23-12 eight minutes into the game with the help of a 15-6 run and benefited from Wofford’s poor shooting. The Terriers opened the game 2 for 11 from the floor and went 9 for 28 in the first half, trailing by 14 going into the second half. The Terriers were 0 for 8 on 3-pointers and trailed 38-20 four minutes into the second half.
“We thought we could come over here and we had some specific things we could do, needed to do to win,” said Wofford coach Mike Young, whose team made its third NCAA tournament in five years as the Southern Conference champion. “You know, we guarded them really, really well. We couldn't make a shot. And, you know, last time I checked, that's pretty important aspect of the game is to get it in the hole.”