March is all about survive and advance — and no game represented that better than the battle of No. 11 seeds Michigan and Tulsa in the final First Four matchup of the 2016 NCAA tournament. It was far from pretty, but the Wolverines did the little things that mattered in a 67-62 victory.
Normally, teams shooting just 6-25 from three-point range and 40 percent from the field overall find themselves on the losing end of things. However, Michigan turned up the heat defensively and helped its own case in holding Tulsa to just 20 percent shooting from the field (3-15).
The Wolverines and Golden Hurricane were locked in an ugly struggle for most of the contest, but the lids finally came off the basket in the final five minutes. What was ugly turned in to one entertaining NCAA tournament contest, and Michigan’s effort was led by guard Muhammad-ali Abdur-Rahkman’s 16 points.
Abdur-Rahkman had help in the second half, and four Michigan players ended up in double figures. Fellow guard Duncan Robinson had himself a double double, scoring 13 points to go with 11 rebounds. U-M also got a 16-point night from forward Zak Irvin and 12 points from star guard Derrick Walton, Jr.
Ultimately it was that team effort that would overcome a game Tulsa squad, who was led by Shaquille Harrison’s game-high 23 points (10-13 shooting from the field). He also added seven rebounds and five assists in the losing effort.
The first half of the contest could only be described as ugly, but Michigan had a somewhat commanding lead at 28-20 going in to the half.
It didn’t matter much though, as the Golden Hurricane went off coming out of the intermission. Tulsa immediately went on a 12-4 run to tie up the ballgame at 32-32 to start the second half.
However, Tulsa couldn’t take a lead until it went up 38-36 with 13:04 to go in the second half. All it did was spark two offenses that were dormant for most of the night.
The two teams would trade baskets and leads for the better part of the next five minutes. In fact, neither team led by more than two points until Michigan finally broke through with a three-pointer from Robinson and a jumper by Abdur-Rahkman gave U-M a 49-45 lead with 8:03 to play.
Michigan couldn’t extend the lead beyond that though, and the rest of the game was an absolute back-and-forth battle that saw no fewer than 15 lead changes heading in to the final minute of the game.
Ultimately, the Wolverines were able to pull away thanks to its ability to hit free throws (13-16) on the night. Michigan went 5-6 from the charity stripe in the final minute alone with the lone miss being the final take of the night with Michigan already up 67-62.
While the survival was important, Michigan will need a much better effort if it is going to take out a very high-powered Notre Dame offense. A return to its own hot shooting from beyond the arc would certainly be helpful, but that may be asking too much of a team who has lived on the edge of the NCAA tournament field all season long.
No doubt the Wolverines will celebrate getting in to the field of 64, but this game also showed there is plenty of work ahead if this team wants to do anything other than be an afterthought to this 2016 NCAA tournament.