Just when the Michigan Wolverines looked like they were down and out, Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. sparked a rally in the second half to cut a 12-point deficit and upend the Illini 60-55 to earn the opportunity to face #1 Ohio State on Saturday.
By: Nick Grays
With what shouldn’t be much of a surprise, the Fighting Illini have struggled to put teams away in the second half all season. By the same token, Michigan has played from behind in the second half many times. So, essentially the Wolverines were very prepared for the task presented in the Big Ten Tournament.
The familiarity definitely showed as the Wolverines calmly stayed within striking distance and went on a 12-0 run late in the second half to make it their game to lose.
The freshman Hardaway who was playing in front of his famous father didn’t disappoint while converting 4-of-7 three-point attempts and making a huge deep-ball late. He explained what kind of mentality this young Michigan squad needed to pull out the significant win.
“You know, I think it’s just the will to win, and we just came out and just stayed hungry and just maintained our focus and poise on the defensive end and the offensive end,” said Hardaway.
His three with 1:42 left on the clock to give Michigan a 56-53 lead made all the difference and was ultimately the dagger for Illinois.
“Well, I mean, I saw Darius just dribbling down, and he handed off to me, and I saw (Bill) Cole just behind him, Darius and whoever was guarding Darius, so I was open behind him, so I said, ‘let’s just shoot it,’ and I just held my follow through, and it went in,” explained Hardaway.
Hardaway was clutch, but the game’s best player was teammate Darius Morris who posted 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting and accumulated seven assists. He attributed the come-back to experience and staying cool.
“Coach always talked about in the huddle keeping a yes face no matter what the score is. That means just positive energy. So I think when we do that, we’re always in the game no matter what the score is, and then we just start focusing on stops, and then possession by possession we get back in the game.,” said Morris.
Next up are the #1 Buckeyes on a short-turn around. Even though, it appears to be a daunting task, Morris and his teammates know what they need to do to stop the Buckeyes and make a run at the Big Ten Championship game.
“I think we definitely have to watch the film, learn from our mistakes from the first two games, see what happened where those games kind of — we lost control of them in the last couple of minutes and see what we can fix and see what we can adjust and come here on a neutral site and try to get it done,” said Morris.
In fact, Morris looks forward to another game with Ohio State.
“As a competitor, we haven’t beaten them this season and I love the opportunity to have a chance to beat them,” said Morris. “You always look forward to those games and want to play the best in the nation.”
Hardaway, Morris and the rest of the Michigan Wolverines will get that chance tomorrow afternoon when they take on the Buckeyes on Saturday.
What did you think of Michigan’s come-back win over the Fighting Illini? Is this team deserving of a NCAA tournament bid and could they win a game there? Let me know by commenting below!
Nick Grays is a senior editor at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Brewers. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best.