Michigan wins defensive battle

By ME Online

CHICAGO (AP) – Michigan shook off a sluggish morning start, got 14 points from Dion Harris and used a second-half spurt Thursday to beat Minnesota 49-40 in the opening game of the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan (21-11), hoping to play its way into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, faces No. 1 Ohio State in Friday’s quarterfinals. The Wolverines lost a tough four-point game to the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale five days ago.

Jerret Smith hit a 3-pointer, Brent Petway had a pair of baskets, one a roaring dunk, and Harris made two free throws after a technical foul on interim Gophers coach Jim Molinari, all part of an early 11-0 run in the second half. That spurt opened up a 35-21 lead for the Wolverines, who are seeded eighth in the conference tournament.

Minnesota fought back with tough defense and twice got within six on a basket by Spencer Tollackson and 3-pointer by Jamal Abu-Shamala with just under five minutes left.

The 6-9, 265-pound Tollackson, who led the Gophers with 15 points, missed two free throws with 1:39 left with a chance to cut it go five and the Wolverines salted away the win at the line.

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Michigan won despite shooting just 27 percent from the field and making 15 turnovers.

Minnesota (9-22) lost more games this season than any other since the university began playing the sport in 1896. And the Gophers’ misery lasted one final game as they put up the lowest point total in the 10-year history of the Big Ten tournament. The previous low was 41 points set by Wisconsin in 1999 and matched by Northwestern a year later.

Earlier this season, Coach Dan Monson was forced to resign, and Molinari took over on an interim basis. He finished with a 7-17 mark after replacing Monson.

Maybe it was the 11 a.m. start, but both teams struggled mightily in the first half before a three-quarters empty United Center with Michigan flailing to a 20-16 lead.

Minnesota missed its first seven shots and didn’t have a basket until almost six minutes into the game. The Gophers then ran off eight straight points for a five-point lead.

Harris had two free throws, a steal and layup and then a late 3-pointer, sending the Wolverines to a 20-16 halftime lead. Minnesota shot 29 percent in the first 20 minutes, making just 6-of-21. The Wolverines weren’t much better, finding the range on just 7-of-23 (30 percent). Each team had eight turnovers.

Michigan’s Ron Coleman hurt his left arm with 3:06 left in the game when he went high for a rebound and came crashing to the floor, but was not seriously injured.