ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday night (March 16), defeating the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Miners 82-67 in the first round of the NIT at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines used a balanced attack of inside and outside shooting to take control from the onset and nursed the lead throughout the second half.
With the victory, the Wolverines advanced to the second round of the NIT and will host Notre Dame Monday (March 20) at Crisler Arena. The 7 p.m. game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tickets will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. Friday (March 17) at the U-M Ticket Department or online. Prices are $10 for Blue reserved, $8 for Gold general admission and $5 for U-M student bleacher seats.
Senior forward Chris Hunter (Gary, Ind./West Side HS) led four Wolverines in double figures with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting, as well as netting a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line. Hunter got it done on the glass as well, pulling down eight rebounds with six of those coming from the defensive end.
Junior guard Dion Harris (Detroit, Mich./Redford HS) finished with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 from downtown and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. He also pitched in five assists and two steals. Backcourt mate senior guard Daniel Horton (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill HS) netted 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting with three fields coming from three-point land. Horton also dictated the pace of the game with nine assists and three steals.
Junior forward Brent Petway (McDonough, Ga./Griffin HS) rounded out the Michigan effort with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, with all of those baskets coming in the form of dunks. He also connected on 2-of-4 from the free throw line, while adding four rebounds.
The Wolverines and Miners exchanged baskets throughout the first four minutes of action, leading to an 8-7 Michigan advantage. The Maize and Blue used the early going to size up a UTEP squad that they have not seen since 1983, and in the process employed a series of mass substitutions, keeping the Miners off balance and allowing the Wolverines to continuously pound the ball inside. Senior forward Graham Brown (Mio, Mich./Mio-AuSable HS) was the main beneficiary of the low-post attack, producing two of Michigan's first four baskets, as Hunter and junior center Courtney Sims (Boston, Mass./Noble & Greenough School) added the other two.
Up only a point, Michigan turned outside as Harris drilled a three-point shot. The basket sparked a 12-2 U-M run, as the Wolverines stretched their lead to 20-9 at 12:27 in the first half. Following the Harris long ball, Petway added two electrifying alley-oops before Michigan went back outside for Horton's first three-pointer of the night. Hunter capped off the run with a turnaround in the low post.
The Miners tried to dig themselves out of the eleven point hole with a 6-0 spurt, but were turned back with deep three's by Horton and Harris. In addition to his hot shooting, Horton dished the ball in the first half, finding Petway for his third alley-oop of the first half, returning the lead back to eleven, 28-17, with just under eight minutes left in the first half.
For the remainder of the half, the Wolverines continued to pour it on from the outside with three-pointers by freshman guard Jerret Smith (Romulus, Mich./Romulus HS), Harris, and Horton. The Michigan advantage reached 14 points twice, while never dipping below eight. Beyond the three-pointers by the U-M backcourt, the Wolverines only hit one other field goal, a put-back by Sims to give Michigan a 43-29 lead with 1:03 left before the break. Michigan would enter the locker-room leading UTEP 44-43.
By halftime, the Wolverines had shot a collective 7-of-11 from beyond the arc, with Horton and Harris connecting on three apiece. Horton added four assists and he and Harris both came away with two steals.
The second half continued much in the same way as play resumed, and mass substitutions by Coach Tommy Amaker gave UTEP fits, allowing Hunter to grab six early points. Petway added yet another alley-oop from Horton as both Brown and Sims combined for a pair of buckets down low, leading to a 56-41 Michigan advantage with just over five minutes into the second half.
The Michigan lead continued to hover around the 15-point mark for the next five minutes as the Wolverines played the inside-outside game, with Sims and Brown coming away with baskets to go along with buckets by Horton and sophomore wing Ron Coleman (Romulus, Mich./Romulus HS). A Harris basket at 9:47 gave Michigan a commanding 65-53 lead.
Hunter immediately followed the Harris basket with eight points of his own, including two three-pointers, capping off a 12-0 Michigan run to give the Wolverines a 73-53 advantage. With Michigan up by 20 and six minutes to go, the Wolverines iced the ball game with six of their last 11 points coming from the foul line, capping off an 82-67 victory.
Monday's opponent, Notre Dame, is a No. 5 seed that advanced with a 79-69 defeat of No. 4 seed Vanderbilt on Wednesday (March 15) in South Bend, Ind. The Irish and Wolverines met earlier this season (Dec. 3) at Notre Dame, with U-M prevailing 71-67.
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423