NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team took a monumental step in its program Thursday night (April 1), capturing the 2004 National Invitation Tournament championship by defeating Rutgers 62-55 in front of 16,064 fans at Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines (23-11) withstood a raucous Rutgers crowd and a 15-2 second-half Scarlet Knight run, eventually recapturing the lead and pulling away in the final five minutes with some key defensive stops and clutch free throw shooting.
Horton led the Wolverines in scoring in both NIT contests at Madison Square Garden on the way to MVP honors.
In his final game at U-M, senior Bernard Robinson Jr.(Washington, D.C./New Hampton Prep [N.H.]) poured in nine points to go with five rebounds. In addition to his spectacular all-around performance, Robinson held Rutgers' leading scorer Quincy Douby to just two points on 1-of-13 shooting. Freshman Courtney Sims (Roslindale, Mass./Noble & Greenough School) also had a solid game for the Maize and Blue, netting nine points and pulling down seven boards. Herve Lamizana led Rutgers with game highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Michigan got off to a quick start, outscoring Rutgers 6-0 in the first two minutes of the game. After controlling the opening tip, Horton worked the ball down low to Sims, who put the ball off the window to get the Wolverines on the board. U-M increased its lead to six points with two baskets in transition, as Harris fired a pass to sophomore Graham Brown (Mio, Mich./Mio-AuSable HS) for a layup and Horton blocked a three-point attempt and moved the ball up to Robinson for a running lefthander.
The Scarlet Knights eventually got their shot going, but the Wolverines were able to keep a 14-9 lead thanks to a tip-in by Sims and a pair of triples from Harris and Horton. Rutgers responded with a 7-0 run to grab a 16-14 advantage with just under 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Maize and Blue answered the call by going on a 9-0 run of its own over the next six minutes. Freshman Brent Petway (McDonough, Ga./Griffin HS) got things started with a nice jump hook of the glass, and sophomore Lester Abram (Pontiac, Mich./Northern HS) followed with a steal at midcourt and a lefthanded layup in traffic to give U-M a two-point lead. Following a Sims free throw, sophomore Chris Hunter (Gary, Ind./West Side HS) gave Michigan added momentum with a putback slam. A Horton lay-in on the break put the Wolverines ahead by seven and forced a Rutgers timeout at 6:06, but Sims put home two more from the line after the break to give U-M a 25-16 lead.
Rutgers cut the deficit to 28-23 in the final minutes of the first half, but Michigan reeled off four straight points to go back up by nine points. Ricky Shields' long two at the buzzer made the score 32-25 in favor of U-M heading into the locker room.
The Wolverines stormed out to a game-high 12-point lead, 41-29, in the early minutes of the second half. Brown collected four points during the surge, while Harris connected on another jumper. The run was highlighted by a triple from Horton after Sims made a diving save as the ball was headed out of bounds.
Rutgers answered with a 15-2 run to regain a 44-43 lead with 10:54 to go in the game. A three from Harris stopped the bleeding and put Michigan back up by two points. With the game knotted at 46-46, the Wolverines came out of a timeout and bettered Rutgers' full-court press, as Robinson took one in all alone for a dunk.
After the Scarlet Knights tied things up again at 48-48 with under five minutes to play, Michigan took to the offensive glass to come up with a pair of key buckets. Brown corralled one of the boards before Sims pump-faked and scored, and Hunter grabbed another loose ball and put it back in to give the Wolverines a 52-48 edge with three minutes remaining.
With U-M holding the four-point lead, Harris stepped up to the line and coolly sank two free throws to increase the cushion to six points. Another Michigan defensive stop resulted in two more free throws by Robinson, allowing the Wolverines to go up 56-48 with 1:45 to go in the game.
Despite a triple from Shields, Michigan was able to keep a 58-53 lead thanks to free throws from Robinson and Abram. Rutgers' attempts to gain ground from long range were off the mark, and the Wolverines were able to preserve the victory from the charity stripe, scoring their final four points on free throws.
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423