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Posted on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

Michigan basketball hangs on to NCAA Tournament hopes by winning 70-63 at Minnesota

By Michael Rothstein

Novak-Zack (2010-11).jpg

Zack Novak

Updated 8:13 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — Zack Novak paused, trying to think where his big shot Saturday afternoon ranked. After a few seconds, he couldn’t really quantify it.

The reason for contemplation is simple. In the moment, his 3-pointer as the shot clock expired and the game clock dwindled into the final 90 seconds Saturday afternoon gave the Michigan basketball team the lead and an eventual 70-63 win at Minnesota.

But in the larger context, over the course of a season and a career, the shot simply gave this Michigan season extended life. How significant it is depends on what happens the rest of the way.

The Wolverines knew, after losing on a buzzer-beater to Wisconsin on Wednesday, that it had to recover. It had to bounce back. Michigan’s season depended on it.


“It remains to be seen. It’s a big shot,” said the junior guard. “But we had a lot of guys make big plays down the stretch. This is a big win for us.

“We have to see where we go from here.”

That Michigan (18-12, 8-9 Big Ten) has that option is largely due to Novak's performance at the end of what was essentially an NCAA Tournament elimination game for both the Wolverines and Minnesota (17-11, 6-10).


  • First Star: Zack Novak, Michigan
    The junior guard made a huge shot for the Wolverines with 1:32 left and the shot clock about to expire. The 3-pointer gave Michigan the lead and his steal on the next possession resulted in a three-point play for Darius Morris and an eventual win. Considering Novak missed all 14 of his shot attempts the past two games, it was a big turnaround for the Michigan captain.

  • Second Star: Darius Morris, Michigan
    The sophomore point guard played under control, found his teammates and ended up with 17 points and seven assists -- 11 of those points and four of those assists coming in the second half. He also converted a three-point play off the Novak steal that broke open the game late.

  • Third Star: Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
    Looking for an underrated statistic? Try this: Hardaway had 22 points on 7 of 11 shooting, including a 15-point barrage in the first half. Yet it may not have been his most efficient game of the last month. That might have been the 9 of 14 game against Iowa (30 points) or the 9 of 11 game against Indiana (26 points). The freshman has scored in double figures in 11 straight games and tied a career-high with five 3-pointers Saturday.

  • Readers’ choice

After he made the 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to give Michigan a 64-62 lead with 1:32 left, Novak stole the ball from Minnesota’s Rodney Williams on the Gophers' ensuing possession and passed it to sophomore guard Darius Morris as he streaked down the court. Morris hit the fast break layup, was fouled, made the free throw for the last of his 17 points and essentially sealed the game.

Morris knew it, too, pointing one finger down repeatedly after Trevor Mbakwe, who had 18 points, fouled him. It was an emotional moment for Morris and for the team he has carried at times this year.

“We're playing on the road, our backs are against the wall and this is a redemption game. We needed to bounce back,” Morris said. “I got that and-1 and it seemed to open the game up just a little bit.

“Just a little bit for us to put the game in our hands and that was kind of a relief.”

Relief, of course, is a relative term for a team on the bubble that has lost five single-digit games to top 10 teams. After the latest one, the loss to Wisconsin that most Michigan players admitted stung more than most, they needed this.

That Novak made the critical 3-pointer was even bigger. He had endured a three-game slump and hadn’t made a field goal since Feb. 16 against Illinois. Entering Saturday, Novak had missed his last 14 shots.

So when the shot went down to help Michigan to its fourth Big Ten road win of the year — the first time the Wolverines have done that since 2002-03 — Michigan knew what it meant.

It meant they still had a shot.

“We knew, we knew how much we needed the win,” Novak said. “Even just from a psyche standpoint, to lose one like we lost the other day, I think that’s the worst I’ve felt after a loss since I’ve been to school. That was the most painful loss.”

They followed it with one of their biggest victories of the season, the fifth time they've rebounded from a loss with a win on the road and the third year in a row the Wolverines have won at Minnesota.

Late in the game, Michigan coach John Beilein turned to his assistant coaches and could only say one thing.

“Here we go again,” Beilein said, well before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to finish with game-high 22 points and provide the relatively-comfortable final margin of victory.

Over the last three weeks, Michigan clinched wins over Iowa, Northwestern and Indiana in the final minutes and lost to Illinois (after a Stu Douglass miss) and Wisconsin (on a Josh Gasser bank shot) at the buzzer.

For teams on the bubble, for teams in major college basketball, that's what happens in February. Shots fall, like they did Saturday. Shots don’t, like they didn’t against Illinois.

For now, the Wolverines can be happy because it fell for them.

“That’s the way we live,” Beilein said.

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 2:29 a.m.

And let's not forget--Michigan was expected to make the Tourney last year because of what they had returning...didn't happen. Nothing is guaranteed next season.


Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 2:28 a.m.

I thought the most painful loss for us/Michigan players since Novak has been at Michigan was the one that basically ended the exact same way the Wisconsin game did, only against our hated rival--Ohio State--in the Big Ten tournament. We needed a win bad then, too, just to even make the NIT or to keep believing we had a shot at the NCAA Tourney if we won the Big Ten tourney. THAT should be the most painful loss for him.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 6:39 p.m.

Michigan won the game on three-point shots (12-28, 42.9%), six more completions than Minnesota (and representing an 18 point differential) . Michigan turned the ball over only 5-times compared to Minnesota's 9-times. Both teams shot single digit free-throws suggesting that the game was not aggressive in the paint. As expected, Minnesota out-rebounded Michigan 36-28. Both teams shot about the same, Michigan 45.5% and Minnesota 43.1%. Had Michigan missed 3 more of their 3-point shots and thus had a more typical completion rate, then the outcome would likely have been different. Setting game analysis aside, Michigan will have to beat MSU and win at least two or its 4 Big Ten tournament games in order to be considered seriously for the NCAA tournament. Remember that one of UofM's wins was against Concordia which will carry little weight with the selection committee. On the other hand, Michigan will be selected for the NIT and may be given a high seed. With continued personnel improvement over the summer Michigan should join the Big Dance next year and without being on the "bubble" at the end of the season.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 6:38 p.m.

Zack Novak is so vital to this team. When he's on the floor, he gives 150% each and every minute. He is willing to give his body up for a charge and is the best scrapper on the team. Job well done, Zack!!


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

There must be an emphasis to get Hardaway the ball consistently. At times he almost disappears because we are not flowing the O thru him. He could and should be scoring +30 a game.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

This makes the Wisconsin game even more heartbreaking, but maybe we can still do it. Go Blue!


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 1:29 a.m.

boy were all the so called experts wrong about this team before the season started..they said 10 wins if we were lucky..gooo blue...on to the tourney..


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

The fact that this team was able to get up for this game after the devastating loss to Wisconsin speaks volumes about their mental toughness. The MSU game will be huge. Go Blue!


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:26 a.m.

..gutty, veteran steal..Big TEAM win..that is Wolverine B-Ball! Go Blue! v


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

I love this basketball team - these young men, who never give up, could teach the Pistons a lesson too. GO BLUE!


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

Sat next to Coach Borges at the game. Let him know what us fans think of the pro set. Anyway, on to basketball. I have us at a 6 or 7 seed regardless of the State game outcome. Up to about a 5 if (when) we beat Potluck U. What people fail to realize is that the Ed Martin thing was orchestrated by msu. He had financial backing in Lansing, and the only way they could bring us down was through a frame. Well, state will be down for a looooong time now, and once Izzo's deeds are uncovered (he had Saban's help), they might never be back.

Blu n Tpa

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

I challenge the veracity of your statement. There is NO reason to believe there is/was any contact to any member of the UM leadership group here. Never was, and never will be. Quite frankly, your need to write such things is troubling.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

I'm just glad you let Coach know that we're all excited about going back to the pro set.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:01 a.m.

That is a very strange rational'? We should just focus on this team, which are an entertainign bunch who have a lot of potential. Great win today, lets beat MSU. Go Blue