ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) —Minnesota could easily be 2-0 in the Big Ten after two road games. That isn’t making Golden Gophers coach Tubby Smith feel any better.
On Sunday, Minnesota dropped to 0-2 in the conference when Rodney Williams couldn’t hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds. No. 18 Michigan added two free throws and hung on for a 61-56 victory.
“We did some good things again tonight, but it wasn’t enough,” said Smith, whose team lost at Illinois in double-overtime on Tuesday. “We didn’t make plays down the stretch, Michigan did, and now we still need a win. That’s all that matters right now.
“We’ve performed well in both of these games, and it is tough to win on the road in this league, but they still only count as a pair of losses.”
Smith’s biggest frustration was that his team lost even though it shut down Michigan’s best shooters, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz, who combined to go just 3 of 18 shots and missed all six 3-point attempts.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke stepped up and scored a career-high 27 points for the Wolverines.
“We knew we had to take away their 3-point shooters, but that opened us up to their pick-and-roll,” Smith said. “If you help there, you leave someone open for a 3, and we didn’t want to do that.”
Burke hit both his 3-point attempts, but most of his points came on drives to the basket.
“Minnesota did a great job of guarding Tim and Evan — the scouting report on them is out there by now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “When you can’t get the ball to your shooters, it is up to your point guard and your big men. We ran a lot of high pick-and-roll, and Trey did a great job of getting to the rim.”
Burke had 13 points, seven assists and no turnovers in Thursday’s league-opening win against Penn State, so he has shown he can operate in different roles despite his lack of experience.
“We were having trouble getting open shots from the outside, so we started running the pick-and-roll,” Burke said. “Once we saw that they were going to switch, we really embraced it, because it gave me a chance to get to the basket.”
The Wolverines (12-2, 2-0) have won seven straight since losing to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Classic.
Burke was the only Wolverine to reach double figures, with Stu Douglass and Zack Novak scoring nine each. Jordan Morgan had seven points and 12 rebounds.
Julian Welch and Rodney Williams had 11 points each for Minnesota. Williams, though, missed an open look at a tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, and Novak clinched the game from the free throw line.
“The play wasn’t designed for me, but I was the one who ended up getting open,” Williams said. “It felt great coming out of my hand, but it just wouldn’t go down.”
Both teams struggled badly on offense in the first half, with the exception of Burke. He scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting to help the Wolverines to a 23-19 lead. The other 18 players who saw action in the half shot a combined 23.9 percent.
The game was tied at 35 until Minnesota was called for a foul just as Douglass hit a 3-pointer with 11:33 left. That gave the ball back to the Wolverines, and Novak’s layup made it a five-point possession.
“I think that five-point possession really changed the game,” Smith said. “We had pulled even and had some momentum, and we had two chances to end that, but they got both rebounds and turned it into five.”
Douglass and Novak scored on the next two possessions, helping Michigan stretch the lead to 45-38. Minnesota got as close as 57-56 when Welch hit two straight 3-pointers with 2 minutes to go.
After Novak missed, the Golden Gophers were called for a shot-clock violation. Hardaway, who had missed 12 of 13 shots, hit a short jumper to make it a three-point lead with 35 seconds left.
“We told Tim that we wanted him to take the shot, and he came off a screen and knocked it down,” Beilein said. “That says a lot about Tim Hardaway.”
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