I’m not sure I could express in words what I would give for a blowout.
For the second time in less than 24 hours, Michigan has produced a textbook nailbiter undoubtedly responsible for an array of new gray hairs on my head. After surviving a last-second scare against Illinois Friday afternoon, the Wolverines welcomed longtime nemesis Ohio State in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. And living up to its storied reputation, Saturday’s matchup certainly did not disappoint in terms of drama, as Michigan eked out a 72-69 victory, earning a coveted spot in the title game against the winner of Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Led by perennial scorers Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, Michigan burst out to a 15-2 lead, as well as a 7-of-9 start from downtown, thoroughly dominating the first half. But despite the incendiary offensive output, the Wolverines were never quite able to pull away as the Buckeyes, led by junior forward LaQuinton Ross, refused to give way. Also contributing in the effort was Shannon Scott, who helped OSU gain their first lead of the afternoon with roughly 8 minutes to go in the game. But in the end it was Michigan who would emerge on top, as Aaron Craft watched the tying 3-point attempt inexplicably slip out of his hand before time expired.
1. Caris LeVert: A truly Durant-like performance from the Slim Reaper, and equally overshadowed by the LeBron of Michigan Basketball, Nik Stauskas. The sophomore fired 6-of-9 from the field en route to 17 points as well as, count ‘em all, 8 rebounds in the win. LeVert has developed a knack for knocking down shots at the most opportune moments, and his presence on both ends of the court has provided the X-factor Michigan has needed in late game situations. He also led the team in minutes played against the Buckeyes with 37.
2. Nik Stauskas: I think it’s safe to say that the Nik Stauskas of old has gloriously returned. 18 points on 50% from the field, as well as 50% from downtown, led the Wolverines despite being continually spotlighted by defensive schemes. Stauskas has been a nuisance all season for opponents with the development of his inside game, in addition to his lethal outside shooting. On a more negative note, Stauskas tallied only 1 rebound and 1 assist to accompany his team-leading scoring output. As the Wolverines move forward into March Madness, the Beast of the Great White North will unquestionably have to put forth a stronger showing on the stat sheet on top of his exceptional scoring ability.
3. Glenn Robinson III: It seems like forever since there’s been cause for considerable praise directed at GR3, and while his numbers have not quite reached what we originally anticipated, Robinson III was invaluable in Saturday’s win. 11 points and 2 rebounds is certainly nothing to write home about, but 3 steals and 2 blocks as well as 2-of-2 from the charity stripe is more than enough to earn my commendation, and undoubtedly proved vital to the ultimate outcome. Those who disregard clichés have said, “Defense wins championships”, and GR3 is well on his way to confirming that.
Michigan will face the winner of Michigan State and Wisconsin in Sunday’s Championship Game at 3:30 PM in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The matchup will mark Michigan’s first trip to the title game since the inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998, which the university has since vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
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