ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team pulled out a 68-58 victory over Utah State in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night (March 13) in Crisler Arena. The Wolverines (22-11, 8-8 Big Ten) built a strong double-digit lead by the end of the first half, with more than half of Michigan's points coming in the paint; U-M saw its lead dwindle to one point in the second half before going on a late 12-0 run to seal the victory.
Sophomore guard Jerret Smith (Romulus, Mich./Romulus HS) led the Wolverines with a career-high 15 points on 3-for-6 shooting; all of his field goals came from downtown, and Smith also shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. He also dished out four assists.
Freshman forward DeShawn Sims (Detroit, Mich./Pershing HS) was lighting in a bottle off the bench for U-M, scoring 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting while pulling down three rebounds and recording one block and a steal. Senior wing Lester Abram (Pontiac,Mich./Northern HS) produced a solid all-around game with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals.
Senior guard Dion Harris (Detroit, Mich./Redford HS) rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting. He also recorded three rebounds and an assist.
The opening eight minutes of the game featured end-to-end action, with Michigan and Utah State exchanging leads on 10 separate occasions. Harris led Michigan early with eight points, including a pair of buckets from beyond the arc; the Wolverines captured an 18-17 lead at 12:28 in the first half. Utah State's Jaycee Carroll helped jumpstart the Aggies with 11 of Utah State's first 15 points, including three buckets from long range.
Following the hot start by Harris, Michigan turned to the post, where Smith dished out assists to seniors Brent Petway (McDonough, Ga./Griffin HS) and center Courtney Sims (Boston, Mass./Noble & Greenough School) as the Wolverines built a 28-21 lead at 6:14. Michigan finished the first half outscoring Utah State 24-6 in the paint.
With almost two minutes remaining before the break, the Wolverines increased their lead to 35-26 following seven straight points from D. Sims. The talented freshman posted 11 points in the first half to lead all Michigan scorers. He connected on one free throw and shot 5-for-7 from the field in the games first 20 minutes.
A three-pointer by Smith sent the Wolverines into the halftime break with a 40-28 advantage.
A pair of three-pointers, one by Smith and another by junior wing Ron Coleman (Romulus, Mich./Romulus HS), preserved a 49-39 Michigan lead at 13:44 in the second half. The Wolverines lost rhythm offensively and posted five points over the next five minutes, as Utah State cut the U-M lead to 54-53 at the 8:15 mark.
Leading by only one basket, the Wolverines then exploded for a 12-0 run with every point coming from the combination of Abram and Smith. Abram netted the first seven points of the run before giving way to Smith, who connected on a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to give Michigan the 66-53 lead at 2:25.
With the victory, the Wolverines advance to the second round of the NIT and will travel to Tallahassee, Fla., to take on the Florida State Seminoles. Tipoff is scheduled for Thursday (March 15) at 7:00 p.m., and the contest will be broadcasted on ESPNU.
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423