Michigan’s Trey Burke saw overtime as a new opportunity.
After watching his teammates struggle in the first half, and the Wolverines nearly eliminated from Big Ten tournament play in the second half, the freshman guard took matters into his own hands.
Burke scored seven of his career-high 30 points in the final five minutes, including the last 3-pointer in a late flurry of long-range shots, to help No. 10 Michigan rally for a 73-69 victory over Minnesota in the quarterfinals.
”We just kept telling each other that we weren’t going to win it on the offensive side, it was going to be the defensive side that was going to help us come out with the win,” Burke said. ”We got down late in the game and our bigs stepped up. We all stepped up on the defensive end and got it into overtime, and that gave us another chance to get the win.”
Michigan (24-8) didn’t blow it, and now faces archrival Ohio State on Saturday for a ticket to Sunday’s title game. The Buckeyes defeated Purdue 88-71 in Friday’s final game.
The Wolverines split the two-game series with both teams during the regular season and wound up tied with the Buckeyes and No. 8 Michigan State for the league’s regular-season title.
If Burke, an Ohio native, keeps playing this well, he could be the difference Saturday, too.
Burke started fast, scoring 11 of Michigan’s first 12 points, and finished strong. He was 11 of 14 from the field, 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, had three assists, two rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Plus, he had just enough help.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime. Zack Novak, Evan Smotrycz, Stu Douglass and Burke combined for five consecutive 3s — the first three helping to force overtime and the last two giving Michigan the early edge in the extra period.
That was all Burke and his teammates needed to boost their confidence.
”Except for these two right here, our whole team had been struggling. So give guys credit,” Novak said who was sitting with Burke and Hardaway. ”Evan is able to knock down a shot. Trey’s pretty much doing whatever he wants. I pretty much get wide open for one there, Tim hit me on another one and when you’ve got two guys that garner so much attention and guys that can get wide open shots, it’s our job to knock them down.”
They also delivered a devastating knockout punch to Minnesota (19-14), which played for the second straight day without injured center Ralph Sampson III (back).
And the Golden Gophers couldn’t blame anybody but themselves.
With 4:37 left in regulation, Minnesota had a 54-45 lead and was in prime position to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament. But the Gophers managed only one more basket in regulation, gave up two 3s in the final 72 seconds of regulation and then failed to convert on either of its game-winning chances in the closing seconds.
Andre Hollins led Minnesota with 21 points, and Rodney Williams finished with 20 points and six rebounds but failed to hit the 10-foot, off-balance buzzer-beater that would have given the Gophers a dramatic victory — and coach Tubby Smith his 100th win since taking the Minnesota job in 2007.
Instead, they’re heading home uncertain of their postseason fate.
”I said, let’s hold out hope, let’s keep hope alive that we will get an opportunity to play, but fate was in our hands and we just didn’t get it done,” Smith said. ”So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Minnesota finally broke open the back-and-forth game when it went on a 13-4 run late in the second half. Williams’ emphatic slam dunk with 4:37 left made it 54-45.
Michigan then changed its philosophy.
By locking up Minnesota’s offense, it gave the long-range shooters a chance to go to work. Novak knocked down one 3 with 3:33 to go and another with 1:12 left to make it 56-53. Smotrycz’s 3 tied the score at 56 with 17.6 seconds left.
Douglass and Burke started overtime with two more 3s, and when Douglass’ 7-footer rolled in the Wolverines had a 64-57 lead with 2:13 to go. All they had to do was make free throws to close it out.
”Like I said it was the defensive end. We came out with a different attitude,” Burke said. ”We locked down, we got on the boards. We just came out with another mindset. We came out and told each other we’re out here together and we got the win.”