ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan was without Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary on Saturday. Former stars Glen Rice and Terry Mills filled in just fine.
On a night when the Wolverines honored their 1989 national championship team, the current squad clinched a share of the Big Ten title with a 66-56 victory over Minnesota.
“It made this so much better to be able to celebrate with those guys,” said Jordan Morgan, the team’s only senior. “Those guys did something that no other team at Michigan has ever been able to do, so we obviously look up to them. It was special to be in the locker room, singing ‘The Victors’ after clinching this title, and having those guys in there singing along.”
Rice might have helped more than anyone, giving Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas a bit of a challenge when they chatted Friday. Stauskas broke out of a shooting slump with 21 points, including 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.
“My shot felt better yesterday in practice than it had felt in a while — I think I made 48 of my 50 3-pointers,” Stauskas said. “But Glen told me that he could make 15 in a row with his eyes closed, and now I’ve got to start working on that. I don’t know if you will see that one on YouTube or not.”
The 16th-ranked Wolverines (21-7, 13-3) didn’t arrive at the Crisler Center expecting to have a chance to earn their third banner in three years, but Illinois changed that by upsetting Michigan State in East Lansing.
The players didn’t find out until halftime, but someone told coach John Beilein as he was walking to the court before the game.
“They seriously spoiled my entire evening, because I didn’t want to know what happened to State until after our game,” Beilein said. “Someone told the kids at halftime, but we didn’t want it to affect the way we played in the second half.”
Michigan won a share of the Big Ten crown in 2012 and lost to Louisville in the national championship game last season. The last time the Wolverines hung banners in three straight seasons was 1964-66, when a group led by Cazzie Russell won three consecutive Big Ten titles and went to two Final Fours.
Beilein, though, isn’t ready to celebrate. Michigan can clinch its first outright conference title since 1986 with a win Tuesday at Illinois or next Saturday at home against Indiana.
“I love the way that we cherish regular-season titles at Michigan. I’ve never been anywhere else where it is so important,” he said. “But when it happens, I never really know how to react. Maybe I’ll be able to relax more if we get the outright title, because we want that.”
Austin Hollins led Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) with 16 points. Andre Hollins had 10 on 3-of-10 shooting.
“I thought we did a great job fighting back every time they made a run, but you have to give them credit,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “There’s a reason that they just clinched a share of the title, and that a lot of those guys helped them go to the championship game last season.”
Burke and Hardaway left for the NBA after the Final Four run, and Pitino joked that he hopes more Wolverines follow in their footsteps.
McGary, a preseason All-America selection, is sidelined with an injury.
“During the handshake line, I told every one of their players that they were a great team, and they should go to the NBA right now,” Pitino said with a laugh. “Sadly, I think they are more likely to listen to Coach Beilien than they are to listen to me.”
Michigan went ahead 31-20 when Stauskas sandwiched two alley-oops to Glenn Robinson III around his third 3-pointer of the half. But the Wolverines weren’t at their sharpest in the second half, and Minnesota cut the deficit to 44-41 with 10 minutes to play.
Pitino thought the biggest plays of the game came with 4 minutes to go.
Minnesota trailed 54-52 and the Wolverines missed a jumper. Morgan, though, forced a held ball on the rebound, and Michigan retained possession. Morgan then missed inside, but point guard Spike Albrecht tipped the ball over a defender’s head, grabbed it as it was headed out of bounds and flipped it to Morgan for a layup.
“That’s not usually my game. I’m supposed to get back on defense when we miss a shot, but my instincts told me to go for it,” Albrecht said. “I was able to get to the ball, and then J-Mo did a great job. I think he had three guys on him when he put that ball in.”
Stauskas followed with jumper to make it 58-52 with 2:58 left, and Albrecht added two free throws. Moments later, Albrecht drained a 3-pointer that gave the Wolverines a 10-point lead.
“I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but I didn’t realize what we had done until after the game,” Morgan said. “I knew Michigan State had lost, but I didn’t know that meant we could clinch until Coach told us after the game. That was a great feeling.”
There were two important men missing from the 1989 celebration. Coach Steve Fisher sent his regrets, but was busy coaching San Diego State on Saturday night, and point guard Rumeal Robinson is in prison in Louisiana. Robinson, who clinched the championship-game win over Seton Hall with two free throws with 3 seconds left in overtime, is serving a 6½-year sentence for bank fraud.
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