A confident Michigan basketball team inspires expectations again
DeShawn Sims wasn’t about to get ahead of himself.
Asked if the 73-64 victory kept the Wolverines chances of a NCAA Tournament appearance alive, the senior forward drew conclusions that were much more modest.
“It was a must-win, just to prove we’re a good team,” Sims said.
Early January is a poor time to heap an irrational amount of importance on one win. Alone, it won’t come close to getting the Wolverines into the postseason.
Sunday’s win over the No. 15 Buckeyes, though, is the Wolverines signature win to date.
With the win, they restored a sense of hope. They displayed cohesiveness and intensity, two traits that have been absent while stumbling to a 7-6 record.
Most importantly, they showed some hints of being the team they were last season: Manny Harris and Sims led the way, while an opportunistic supporting cast filled in the rest.
To date, all traces of that team had seemingly vanished despite the fact core players returned. They emerged Sunday.
On offense, Sims looked dominant, hitting 13 of 18 shots for a game-high 28 points and. On defense, he made Ohio State big man Dallas Lauderdale look irrelevant.
Harris delivered when it mattered most.
When Michigan briefly lost the lead, 39-38, early in the second half he popped two 3-point buckets that kept the Wolverines afloat and ahead.
When they faltered again with 6:40 left in the game, allowing Ohio State to close to within a point, he zig-zagged his way through a thicket of Buckeye defenders on a 1-on-3 break.
As he tripped over the foot of Ohio State’s David Lighty and fell to the floor, Harris somehow flicked the ball over the defenders into the basket, drew the foul and completed a 3-point play that iced the game.
“He’s the only guy that we’ve got who can really go through a jungle like that,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He can go through all those trees and swamps and put something in there. He did a great job fighting his way to the basket.”
Then there was freshman guard Matt Vogrich, who made the most of his three minutes of game action.
He scored four points, grabbed three offensive rebounds and gnashed with Lighty on the defensive end to force a jump ball.
His performance wasn’t so much a spark as it was a three-minute, five-alarm fire for the befuddled Buckeyes.
The Wolverines were more than a sum of their sturdy parts Sunday.
Overall, they played with poise, thwarting Ohio State surges three times. The Wolverines never trailed by more than a point after halftime.
They played with confidence. In the final minutes, they enjoyed an 11-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a solid win. They looked like the team ranked 15th, not the Buckeyes.
Funny, because that’s exactly where Michigan began the season. For one night, they reminded everyone why they once inspired such expectations.
For one night, they inspired hope that they might somehow find a way to still meet them.
Pete Bigelow is the sports producer for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org