Few stories were as good last week as that of the Michigan Wolverines and their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Could that magic extend to the NCAA tournament?
The answer was much the same as it was last week — ask Derrick Walton Jr.
After all, he lifted the Wolverines to a Big Ten tournament crown with some of the best individual play we’ve seen in the B1G tourney in some time. That led to a B1G tourney MVP honor for him and the tourney title trophy for his team.
Walton looked like he would cool off a bit on Friday, starting 1 of 6 from the field. However, that didn’t last long and every one of his 26 points were vital in a wild 92-91 victory over the Cowboys. He added 11 assists for another unconventional double double as well.
He credited the ability to slow down mentally and the confidence from his teammates at the half for the turnaround.
“It’s just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me, it makes me go out and just play much more free just knowing they have a lot of confidence in me,” Walton said following the game.
His six made three-pointers also helped propel the rest of the team to new heights behind the arc. Michigan went a crazy 11 of 15 from deep in the second half alone, finishing the game with a school record 16 made three-pointers for the game.
The volume was nice, but so was Michigan’s ability to do it efficiently. U-M shot a blazing 16 of 29 from beyond the arc on the day.
Naturally, Walton’s final made triple came at a very opportune time. He put the Wolverines up 76-68 with 6:47 to play. It was Michigan’s largest lead the entire game and certainly made the Pokes have to chase things the rest of the way.
Michigan also got some help from its defense in what wasn’t a very defensive game by the scoreboard. However, the Wolverines got the Pokes to turn over the ball 10 times and that led to 15 points on the other end of the court.
The reverse didn’t happen for the usually turnover-creating Oklahoma State defense, as Michigan only coughed it up for times on the day.
All of it combined to somehow overcome Oklahoma State pounding the Wolverines down low. The Cowboys not only owned the boards (40-21), but had a 50-20 advantage in points in the paint.
However, Walton simply wasn’t going to let his team lose this game. Not only did 19 of his 26 points come in the crazy second half, he put in what could be described as the final nail in the coffin with 54.6 seconds to play.
With the two teams trading the lead over the final 10 minutes of the game, Walton’s floater with just under a minute gave Michigan a three-possession lead. It also was a momentum killer, coming after Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
D.J. Wilson, who had 19 points of his own in the win, grabbed the rebound and Walton finished at the other end. That basket made the Cowboys chase the rest of the game.
It also seemed to be yet another poetic finishing move for Walton Jr. in a magical postseason.
But, will Walton be able to continue his magical run when faced with No. 2 Louisville on Sunday? If so, don’t be surprised to see the Wolverines making more noise than ever thought possible in this tournament.