|#18 N.C. State||36||36||72|
From the start of Tuesday’s Michigan-North Carolina State ACC/Big Ten Challenge battle, it was evident that Michigan had yet to play a team of the Wolfpack’s caliber. On the very first possession of the game, Matt Vogrich threw a careless pass that got stolen and thrown down on the other end by Lorenzo Brown.
Over the next five minutes, the two teams traded baskets until the 14:57 mark following the first TV timeout, when N.C. State star C.J. Leslie made a nice mid-range jumper to take a 10-9 lead. Something felt different. Michigan, who has hardly been challenge yet in the young season, was in for a dogfight.
Within one minute, however, Tim Hardaway, Jr. scored five points to give Michigan a small cushion, a cushion that in the end proved large enough for Michigan to not relinquish.
Throughout the final 15 minutes of the first half, the Wolverines kept themselves five to nine points ahead of the Wolfpack behind the uncanny shooting of freshman Nik Stauskas. Hardaway, Jr. poured in 11 points in the first half and finished with 16 to continue his season’s prolific pace, but it was the Canadian newbie that stole the show with a dazzling display of shooting and slashing. Stauskas dropped 13 in the first half with three hand-in-his-face three-pointers, a nice lay-up in traffic, and a pair of free throws after drawing contact in the lane. He finished the game with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, 4-of-7 from downtown, and 4-of-4 from the line in 33 minutes of time as Matt Vogrich got into early foul trouble and looked out of place for the majority of the game.
Stauskas has simply out-played even the most unreasonable expectations for him through six games. At this point he not only has to be considered the best shooter on the team, he has proved that he can snipe with the best in the country. Stauskas’s 95-plus percent free throw shooting mark is icing on the cake, and his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket shows his ability to be a complete scorer, someone capable of taking over a game and carrying his team to victory.
With a seven point lead heading into the half, things were certainly looking up for Michigan, and a fast start out of the gates looked like it would put an end to N.C. State’s hopes early on. And while the first half belonged to Stauskas and Hardaway, Jr., All-American Trey Burke showed why he is one of the very best players in the country in the second stanza.
Burke’s nine first half assists went largely unnoticed due to the show put on by the other Wolverines, but his 18 second half points, including a number of deep clutch threes, were simply too hard to ignore. The floor general’s final line of 18 points (5-of-9 FG, 3-of-5 3PFG, 5-of-8 FT), a career-high 12 assists, two steals, one block, and zero turnovers is almost too good to be true. Stauskas, Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III have been so impressive this year that Burke has almost flown under the radar, but his success so far cannot be over-stated. He is unquestionably the man that gets things running, the calm and cool point guard that always seems to get the job done in the biggest situations.
So while Burke was busy proving why he is an All-American in the second half and Michigan was coasting to a 15-point lead, North Carolina State seemed to be down for the count, but there was some fight left in the preseason ACC favorite.
Leslie was terrific throughout, using his long and lanky frame to find his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals while leading a furious late rally that saw the Wolfpack cut Michigan’s lead to five points with 2:11 left. Leslie appeared to be ready to take over the game with a variety of quick spin moves and dunks on Michigan’s bigs, and his 12 second half points were key in the comeback, but a late controversial charge was called against him that all but sealed the deal for Michigan. The 10-0 run North Carolina State put together from the 5:42 mark to the 2:11 mark gave the Wolfpack faithful hope, but another nifty Hardaway, Jr. lay-up stopped the bleeding for Michigan and the charge call within the final minute gave Michigan its first signature victory of the season.
As Michigan continues to win and climb the charts, the hype becomes harder and harder to ignore. There are few remaining non-conference games that should even pose a threat to Michigan’s undefeated record, and while John Beilein and company are obviously continuing to stress a one-game-at-a-time approach, it’s hard for onlookers to not think about what might be later this season. Many are talking about this team as a national title contender, and though that talk is probably premature and would have been absurd just two years ago, Michigan has shown so far that it will be a very difficult out for any team.
The balance that Michigan displays on offense with at least four players that could conceivably lead the team in scoring on any given night is scary for opposing coaches, and when Michigan’s dominant rebounding thus far is thrown into the equation, there are very few teams in the country on the same level as the Wolverines.
The difference in tonight’s game came down to three stats: three-point shooting, free throws, and turnovers. They may not always be the first numbers that fans look at, but some combination of these three factors will determine the majority of college basketball games. Michigan made seven more threes and shot 12.5 percent better from downtown than N.C. State (37.5% to 25%); made 10 more free throws and shot 13.3 percent better from the charity stripe than N.C. State (80% to 66.7%); and turned the ball over seven fewer times than N.C. State (six compared to 13). The Wolfpack held an edge in both field goal shooting and rebounding, but Michgian won the categories that decided it.
A trip to Peoria, Illinois looms this Saturday for the Wolverines as they will take on Bradley, another team that should turn into a victim.
There comes a time when there is not much to say about a team being so good, and I feel like that time is near. The first ranked team of the year came to Ann Arbor and left with a loss. They certainly won’t be the last.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||3-5||1-2||4-4||2||5||7||2||11||0||2||0||0||32|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr*||7-18||1-9||1-2||0||3||3||3||16||0||2||1||1||36|