Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points and seven rebounds, but left late in the game with a head injury as No. 4 Michigan beat Kansas State 71-57 in the NIT Season Tip-Off final Friday at Madison Square Garden.
Hardaway, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, was accidentally kneed in the head by a Kansas State player in a scramble under the basket. He was attended to on the floor for several moments, then staggered off the floor and back to the Michigan locker room. He returned to the bench for the final seconds of the game and the trophy presentation.
A team spokesman said that Hardaway passed concussion tests and would fly home with the team, but he did not talk to the media. His status for Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Classic game against North Carolina State is unknown.
“He’s getting checked out, but he seemed okay when I talked to him,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Trey Burke scored 10 points, all in the second half, and added six rebounds and four assists. Canadian freshman Nik Stauskas had 10 points off the bench.
Beilein was impressed by the way Stauskas stepped up in the MSG spotlight.
“That young man has swag in everything he does,” he said.
The championship might not have the importance of a postseason tournament, but that didn’t keep the players from enjoying themselves.
“NIT Preseason Championship!!!! THIS IS WHAT WE DO!!!,” tweeted Stauskas, while fellow freshman Mitch McGary tweeted a picture of himself with the trophy and the traditional championship watch presented to each winning player.
The victory, Michigan’s first in a major preseason tournament since the 1997 Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, went comfortably until Hardaway’s injury with about five minutes left.
By that point, though, it was too late to save the Wildcats (5-1) and coach Bruce Weber. Michigan (5-0) outshot Kansas State 52 percent to 37 percent and outrebounded them 40-28.
Weber has seen Hardaway develop as a player, having coached at Illinois, and was impressed by what he saw in New York.
“Rebouding has been our strength, and they just punked us on the boards,” Weber said. “Tim Hardaway is a different player this year than what I saw in the past, and he hurt us.”
Hardaway’s injury was about the only thing that went wrong for Michigan, who looked much better than they did in Wednesday’s semifinal victory over Pittsburgh. While the Panthers sternly tested the Wolverines, leading for much of the night, Michigan was in control throughout the championship game.
They got off to a quick start, forcing the Wildcats to miss 10 of their first 12 shots, and building a 15-5 lead. Kansas State got back into the game after Burke went to the bench with foul trouble, but freshman Spike Albrect was able to run the point well enough to keep the Wolverines ahead.
Burke returned for the second half, and he had two baskets and two assists in the first four minutes as Michigan moved their advantage to 13 points.