Michigan’s fight impressive in defeat

A 16-0 run by Ohio State doomed the Wolverines, but they never quit.

Michigan's Tim Hardaway, Jr. follows the ball during his team's 68-61 loss to Ohio State on Saturday at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

Ian Larson

Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. follows the ball during his team’s 68-61 loss to Ohio State on Saturday at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

Josh Katzenstein

INDIANAPOLIS — Down by 17 to No. 1 Ohio State with less than 4 minutes to play, Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander told the players to keep fighting.

The Wolverines listened, and a 3-pointer from Evan Smotrycz cut the deficit to 65-61 with 23 seconds left. Michigan eventually lost the semifinal matchup with the rival Buckeyes, 68-61, but SaturdayâÄôs finish was somewhat uplifting for a young team on the verge of earning an NCAA tournament berth.

âÄúItâÄôs just what weâÄôve done all year,âÄù junior Zack Novak said. âÄúThereâÄôs been a couple times where weâÄôve just been knocked down and we just kept fighting. We knew there was still a chance, so weâÄôre just going to keep fighting.âÄù

Fourth-seeded Michigan didnâÄôt give up in its quarterfinal matchup against fifth-seed Illinois either. The Illini led 51-39 with 8:35 left on Friday before the Wolverines kicked it into gear, closing the game on a 21-4 run to grab a 60-55 victory.

MichiganâÄôs season in many ways mirrored its two Big Ten tournament games. The Wolverines started 10-2, but after seven losses in eight games, many thought the young squad would finish the season near the bottom of the Big Ten. Many projections had Michigan around 10th in the conference before the season began.

With a 19-12 record, including 9-9 in Big Ten play, the Wolverines finished tied for fourth in the league and tiebreakers gave them the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.

âÄúI think we just did a good job of blocking out preseason rankings and negative talk,âÄù Novak said. âÄúWe were a young team with a lot of unproven players, so there really was no reason for people to think much of us. âĦ I think we just showed a lot of resiliency this year.âÄù

Michigan ended the regular season winning eight of 11 games, including two over in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines hadnâÄôt swept the Spartans since 1997.

But head coach John Beilein wasnâÄôt completely impressed with his team after SaturdayâÄôs loss. Despite Michigan keeping the game close in the early minutes of the second half, Ohio State went on a 16-0 run to open a 63-48 lead.

âÄúWe showed some moments today where we were still very youthful,âÄù Beilein said.

The Wolverines donâÄôt have any seniors on their roster. Their leading scorer, Darius Morris, is a sophomore. Morris averaged 15.2 points, 6.8 assists and four rebounds per game this season to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten third team. The next two top scorers âÄî Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Jordan Morgan âÄî are both freshmen.

After the game ended Alexander adamantly told the young team it would remember the close loss to Ohio State, whether for next season or an upcoming NCAA tournament run.

âÄúThe game is not over until itâÄôs 00:00 on the clock,âÄù Hardaway said after playing 38 minutes, âÄúand you just have to keep on fighting.âÄù