INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The No. 7-seeded University of Michigan men's basketball team fell 59-55 to the No. 10-seeded University of Minnesota, Thursday (March 9), in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. The Wolverines (18-10, 8-8 Big Ten) got out to an early lead, carrying it into the locker rooms, but the Golden Gophers (15-13, 5-11 Big Ten) came out strong in the second half and took the lead just after the 14-minute mark.
Though the Maize and Blue trailed as the contest approached the final minutes, the Wolverines mounted a late surge that left them down by five, 53-48, with 1:08 left in the contest. As the clock ticked down, the Wolverines began forcing free throws by fouling the Golden Gophers, turning the final minute of the game into a battle of wills by both squads.
After junior Dion Harris (Detroit, Mich./Redford HS) and senior Daniel Horton (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill HS) combined for five points with a triple and two free throws respectively to put Michigan within five, U-M fouled Minnesota's Vincent Grier to put him at the line for 1-1. After Grier split the pair to make the Wolverine deficit six, Horton hit a layup at the one-minute mark to put Michigan within four (54-50).
U-M continued to foul to put the Golden Gophers at the line, and it worked to Michigan's advantage as Minnesota was able to make just 1-of-6 at the charity stripe in three trips. But the Wolverines were unable to convert from the field, going 0-for-2 from the floor, resulting in their five-point deficit being upheld with just 38 seconds left on the clock.
On Michigan's next possession, senior Lester Abram (Pontiac, Mich./Northern HS), who played his first significant minutes since suffering an ankle injury at Minnesota (Jan. 21), drew a foul to go to the line for one plus the bonus. Abram drained both free throws to put Michigan down by three (55-52) and the Wolverines once again fouled the Gophers as they inbounded the ball. Grier split the pair for the Golden Gophers and Michigan took possession with 28 seconds left in the game.
Again taking the reigns on the offensive end, Abram drove the basket with Michigan trailing by four. As he fell to the floor, his shot fell as well, and the Wolverines thought they had two points plus the bonus, which would have put Michigan within one point of the Golden Gophers. But Abram was called for an offensive foul, and the ball was given back to Minnesota with the Wolverines still trailing 56-52.
With just 18 seconds remaining on the clock, the Wolverines continued to give it everything they had, but there was simply too little time. After Minnesota made another pair of free throws, Harris put up two points at the seven-second mark before senior Sherrod Harrell (Kalamazoo, Mich./Central HS) grabbed a steal and drew a Minnesota foul.
Harrell split a pair of free throws to put the Wolverines within three (58-55), and Michigan fouled once again with the hopes that Minnesota would miss both from the charity stripe to give the Wolverines one last try at forcing overtime.
Minnesota would give the Wolverines no such opportunity however, as Grier made his second free throw despite missing his first to put Michigan down by more than one possession with four seconds left on the clock and ultimately seal the 59-55 victory for the Golden Gophers.
For Michigan, Harris and Horton led the Wolverines with 16 and 14 points respectively. Harris went 6-of-15 from the floor with four triples in 35 minutes of play, also dishing off four assists and grabbing two steals. Horton's 14 points came on 6-of-13 shooting and 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. He also dished off four assists while grabbing two steals, but his time on the court was cut short after he recorded his fourth foul with 6:10 remaining. He eventually returned, recording his fifth foul with just 38 seconds left on the clock.
Junior Brent Petway (McDonough, Ga./Griffin HS) led the Wolverines on the boards, bringing down six rebounds and blocking one shot. Petway also recorded nine points on 3-of-5 shooting including 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
In addition to this game marking a return for Abram, who missed 10 games due to his ankle injury, this contest saw the return of senior Chris Hunter (Gary, Ind./West Side HS) who made his first appearance since suffering a knee injury at Michigan State (Feb. 18). Hunter finished the game with three points and three rebounds in 13 minutes of play.
The first half was a low-scoring affair, but the Wolverines jumped out to an early 7-0 start to begin the game. Michigan rattled off three-straight shots from senior Graham Brown (Mio, Mich./Mio-AuSable HS), Harris and sophomore Ron Coleman (Romulus, Mich./Romulus HS) before Minnesota recorded its first field goal at 16:40.
The remainder of the first frame moved relatively slowly as neither team was able to get much going. Michigan drained timely shots as the clock ticked awat to maintain a steady pace and stay ahead of the Golden Gophers. But an array of turnovers and some missed shots just after the eight-minute mark allowed Minnesota to put together a small scoring drive and close the gap. With 6:29 left in the half, Michigan led by just four, 22-18.
Though the Wolverines responded quickly to push their lead back to seven (25-18), they again had trouble hitting shots from the floor, allowing the Golden Gophers to again mount a comeback. As U-M posted two turnovers and shot just 1-of-7 to close the half, Minnesota posted a triple and two from the charity stripe to make the score 27-23 in favor of the Wolverines heading into the locker rooms.
When the teams returned to the floor, Michigan's lead was quickly surrendered to Minnesota as the Golden Gophers went on an 8-0 scoring drive in under three minutes in the early stages of the second half. The run allowed Minnesota its first lead of the contest, 35-31, at 13:55 and Michigan would never reclaim an advantage.
As the Wolverines continued to struggle with shooting and turnovers, Minnesota didn't back down and continued to put up points until Michigan attempted its final shot at the win in the final minute of play.
Next for the Wolverines will be waiting for the NCAA Selection Show Sunday, March 12 to see if they have earned a bid to the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The selection show will be broadcast at 6 p.m. on CBS.
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423