isportsweb Senior Editor
Michigan (19-12, 9-9) capped the regular season with a tremendous 67-64 victory at Minnesota. Michigan’s David Merritt told his teammates before the game, “We slay our giant today”. That giant he was referring to was first of all a road win, secondly it is the giant that has locked this team out of the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
Michigan stormed back from 12 down in the second half to get the win. The catalyst in the comeback was Laval Lucas-Perry. He snapped out of his funk in a big way. Midway through the second half with Michigan down by 10 Lucas-Perry went on a 3 minute rampage. During those 3 season changing minutes for Michigan, Lucas-Perry scored 11 straight points. He did it by sinking 3 daggers from downtown and by draining two critical free throws. By the end of his scoring barrage Michigan had pulled within 2 points. That Lucas-Perry run turned the tide in this game.
After a Gophers basket put them back up 58-54 Manny Harris drove to the basket and put up a tough, contested left-handed lay up that got the friendly roll from the rim. Michigan was back within 2 and you could sense they were going to finish this with a win.
After Harris’ lay up DeShawn Sims ripped off 6 straight points and suddenly Michigan was up 62-60. The Wolverines were playing with urgency and desire. With just under 4 minutes to play Manny Harris was diving on the court for a loose ball. While he was fighting to gain control of the ball Lucas-Perry got in Ed Hightower’s face and called a time out. Moments later Manny anticipated a Minnesota pass and swiped it, unfortunately he turned the ball back over on a palming violation. That turnover did not change the fact that Michigan was playing with intensity and a singular focus.
With about 2:20 to play and Michigan clinging to that 62-60 lead Minnesota missed a shot and guess who pulled down the defensive rebound, Laval Lucas-Perry. On Michigan’s ensuing possession Manny Harris buried a clutch, game sealing triple from the corner to put Michigan up 65-60.
After a couple of Westbrook free throws sliced the lead to 65-62 Minnesota was applying full court pressure. Manny Harris got the ball drove into the lane and dropped a beautiful bounce pass to Sims, who then flushed home a huge dunk.
Minnesota had a chance to tie the game with 4.1 seconds left but Westbrook lost the handle and was swarmed by three Wolverines who forced him to launch a hopeless shot at the buzzer that fell way short.
Now the big question is, does this big road win and season sweep of the Gophers put Michigan in the tournament? Nobody really knows for sure but I think with their RPI, strength of schedule, and key wins that it will be hard for the selection committee to keep them out.
Up next is the Big Ten Tournament. We know Michigan will be playing on Thursday. We don’t know who they will be playing. A win Thursday should erase any final doubt about their tournament chances.
Inside the numbers: DeShawn Sims scored a game high 24 points. Laval Lucas-Perry finished with 19 points, including 3-4 from beyond the arc. Michigan had 16 assists on 22 field goals. The Wolverines also had 11 steals against just 9 turnovers.
Manny Harris finished with 14 points on 5-11 shooting. He also dished out 6 assists, pulled down 2 boards and notched 2 steals. Additonally Manny Harris drew a charge and was diving on the court for loose balls.
Bubble Watch: The win boosted Michigan’s RPI to 40 at WarrenNolan.com. That combined with what is generally a top 10 strength of schedule sure looks good on the resume. I agree that a first round win in the BTT erases any doubt, but I think they are in. Watch for much more Bubble talk this week on isportsweb.