NCAA Tournament 2017: Michigan gives Oklahoma State triple trouble in historic performance

Sporting News
Michigan needed 3-pointers to take down Oklahoma State on Friday — A LOT of 3-pointers.

NCAA Tournament 2017: Michigan gives Oklahoma State triple trouble in historic performance

Michigan needed 3-pointers to take down Oklahoma State on Friday — A LOT of 3-pointers.

INDIANAPOLIS —If you were watching Friday afternoon, and pity for you if you weren’t, you saw Michigan deliver one of the greatest shooting performances in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

That is not hyperbole. That is not recency bias. It is not an alternative fact.

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Since the 3-point shot was introduced in advance of the 1986-87 season, there were 1,944 NCAA Tournament games played before the Wolverines and Oklahoma State tipped off a little after noonat Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In only four of them did a team make more 3-point shots than Michigan landed in its 92-91 victory in the NCAA Midwest Region first round. A lot of that was by design.

"I sensed we were going to have to outscore them,"Michigan coach John Beilein said.

Beilein decided midway through the second half to remove center Mo Wagner, the team’s No. 3 scorer and tallest starter, and ride with 6-7 forward Duncan Robinson, who makes roughly two-thirds of his baskets from 3-point range. Michigan was going to have a shootout with the Cowboys, and if occasionally it meant giving up two points on defense to get three on offense, the Wolverines would live with it.

And so they live on with their sixth consecutive victory and 11th in their past 13 games. This is not about momentum or a "hot team,"though. This is about a resilient team doing what it needs to win; they made only six threes in upsetting league champion Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. They needed a lot more than that to pull this one off.

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Michigan made 11 of 15 from 3-point range after halftime: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and big man D.J. Wilson made one each; Robinson and wing Zak Irvin made two each; point guard Derrick Walton Jr. made all five he tried and finished with 26.

"You go 11-of-15 from the three,"OK State coach Brad Underwood said, "that’s hard to do in a gym by yourself."

The Wolverines scored 33 of their 51 second-half points on threes. They scored eight on free throws. They made only four 2-point baskets.

The most ever was 21 by Loyola Marymount in 1990 against —how about this? —Michigan. There hadn’t been a performance anything like this since Ohio State managed 16 triples against George Mason in a 99-68 blowoutin the 2011 round of 32.

"You kind of don’t feel how many threes you’re making,"Abdur-Rahkman said. "But it feels like the basket is an ocean, like throwing a rock in the ocean. It makes you play better to see your teammates out there making shots. You just want to play even harder.

"You kind of feed off that energy. You see a shot go in, you have more confidence that when I’m open, I’m going to knock down a shot, too."

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The end of the game was a challenge for Wagner, who is accustomed to being on the court as the game is decided.

"Sitting on the bench when you’re used to playing is obviously not easy,"Wagner said, "but it’s not about who’s on the court. That’s the beauty of this team is it’s all so unselfish. It doesn’t matter to us, to me as well. The worst thing on the bench to me is I just get in the spectator perspective. I get so excited and anxious. I couldn’t watch.

"The last free throws: Just make them. I prayed for me and closed my eyes. I would have liked to just go in the locker room and wait until they came back. That’s how I am."

Michigan didn’t want to allow Oklahoma State All-American Jawun Evans —OK, so this is pure opinion/analysis, but he advances the ball faster than any guard this decade —to hurt them in transition. He did. But assistant Billy Donlon, who handles a lot of the UM defense, mostly didn’t want the Cowboys to get open 3-point shots. Shooter Phil Forte was only 1 of 4 from behind the arc.

"All the analytics said, ‘If Forte makes threes, you lose,"Donlon told Sporting News.

Forte didn’t make threes.

Michigan did. A lot of them.

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