Burke, Michigan rally into Big Ten semifinals
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan point guard Trey Burke is defying the so-called wall that freshmen are supposed to hit by now.
One of these days it’s going to happen, but for the Wolverines’ sake, preferably not this month.
The 19-year-old kid did it again Friday night, leading Michigan to a 73-69 overtime victory over No. 10 seed Minnesota in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
All Burke did was play all 45 minutes and score a career-high 30 points on 11 for 14 shooting.
He’s been doing this since the day he stepped on campus. Burke leads the nation’s 10th-ranked team in scoring, assists and minutes played, averaging about 36 minutes a game for the season and 38 since the Big Ten schedule started.
He just sucks it up and keeps on going and going and going.
“Definitely tired, but the win was the most impressive thing for me,” Burke said in a postgame interview with the Big Ten Network. “We stuck it out. We were down. We came together as a team, stuck it out.”
No. 2 seed Michigan advances to Saturday’s conference semifinals against Ohio State, 88-71 winners over Purdue on Friday. The other semifinal pits Michigan State against Wisconsin, with the championship being played Sunday afternoon.
The Wolverines (24-8) trailed by nine points with 4 1/2 minutes to play, but Zack Novak made his first two baskets of the game, both three-pointers, to give his team a chance down the stretch.
Still, Minnesota was up by six with less than 90 seconds to go.
The only problem was the Gophers’ offense had come to a screeching halt by that point, unable to put the game away.
Michigan sophomore Evan Smotrycz, a reserve forward, tied the score with 17.6 seconds remaining in regulation when he hit a wide-open three-pointer off a nice pass from senior guard Stu Douglass.
It was Smotrycz’s only points of the game. He missed his three other shots.
Minnesota (19-14) had two chances to win it. Burke blocked Andre Hollins’ shot, and the ball ended up going out of bounds off Smotrycz. A last-second 10-footer by Rodney Williams (20 points) bounced off the rim, sending the game to overtime.
Douglass made his first basket of the game, a three-pointer, to give the Wolverines a lead early in OT they wouldn’t relinquish. Burke made sure of it, scoring nine of his points in the extra period.
“From the very beginning, I knew we were in for a battle,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in a BTN interview. “You could just tell.”
Michigan was playing its first game since gaining a share of its first Big Ten regular season championship in 26 years just five days earlier.
“We came out sluggish,” Beilein said. “They put us on our heels and almost took the game.”
Michigan’s first point, a free throw by Jordan Morgan, came 3:43 into the game. Burke then scored the Wolverines’ next 11.
It was similar to an earlier meeting between these teams when Burke, the Big Ten’s co-Freshman of the Year, scored his previous season-high of 27 points in a five-point victory on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor.
In this one, Burke scored 13 in the first half, but the Wolverines trailed 23-20. He had five field goals. The rest of the team had made two.
“It’s incredible moxie that he has,” Beilein said of his freshman sensation. “A really smart player who never folds under pressure. He gives us a great package.”
The Gophers were coming off an overtime upset in Thursday’s opening round that likely knocked Northwestern out of the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota turned that momentum into a fast start against Michigan, taking a 13-4 lead before Burke led the Wolverines back.
Michigan started switching defenses between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, which helped temporarily slowed down the Gophers.
Minnesota freshman point guard Andre Hollins had 21 points and six assists in a great back-and-forth duel with Burke.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. scored the Wolverines’ first nine points of the second half in 2 1/2 minutes. He had as many fouls as points in the first half (two each). He finished with 20 points. No one else, other than Burke, had more than seven for the Wolverines.
All of Novak’s scoring (six points) came in the final four minutes of regulation. All of Douglass’ scoring (five points) came in overtime.
Somehow, through it all, the Wolverines were able to find a way to win. They truly survived and advanced.
“It just shows how strong we are together,” Burke said of the Wolverines’ team chemistry. “The seniors, Zack and Stu, kept us together in the huddles.
“We knew it was going to be a long shot to blow them out. We knew it was going to be a hard fight coming into this game. We fought it out.”
A freshman showed them the way until a couple seniors finally came to life late. They just better hope that freshman doesn’t run out of gas any time soon.