Ann Arbor — For the first time in nearly a year, Michigan found itself in an unfamiliar situation: needing to rebound from a regular-season loss.
The Wolverines were able to wash away the odd feeling in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night.
After riding a huge second-half flurry to a 13-point lead, No. 5 Michigan had to survive a late-game collapse and use a buzzer-beater by redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews to pull out a 59-57 win over Minnesota at Crisler Center.
“I’m not a huge fan of the slogan ‘ugly wins,'” said Matthews, who finished with seven points and hit his first game-winner since his senior year of high school. “I just feel like you’re going against good teams and you can’t blow everybody out. I feel like if you can survive these ones, these are quality wins. You’ve got to be able to gut them out.”
Gutting it out is exactly what Michigan (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten) did on a night where it shot a season-low 33.9 percent (21-for-62) from the field and season-worst 13.6 percent (3-for-22) from 3-point range on top of missing eight free throws.
But thanks to its defense, a bounce-back performance from freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis (18 points and 11 rebounds) and another impressive all-around outing from junior center Jon Teske (15 points, five rebounds and three blocks), Michigan was able to find a way to win after Minnesota scored 10 unanswered points to tie it with 31 seconds left.
On the final possession, Michigan coach John Beilein didn’t want to settle and opted to draw up a play for Brazdeikis, who was 9-for-11 on free throws, to attack the basket. Brazdeikis got the ball from junior guard Zavier Simpson atop the key and made his move down the left side of the lane with six seconds to go.
After Brazdeikis was met by a swarm of Minnesota defenders at the rim and had his layup attempt blocked, the ball was tipped out into the waiting hands of Matthews, who took one dribble and lofted a baseline floater over the outstretched arm of Gophers big man Jordan Murphy.
“I know Iggy, that’s my little brother. He’s like a bull in a china shop when he’s going to the rim, so he ain’t looking to kick out,” Matthews said of the final play. “So I said, ‘Hey, he might miss this one. Let me go try to get the rebound.’ Thank God I was in the right position. You’ve got to know your teammates, know your personnel.”
Said Beilein: “It wasn’t time to dial up a 3 to win by three. It was a time to score or get to the foul line. He (Brazdeikis) didn’t get it. They made a good play and Charles is always around the basket cleaning up stuff.”
However, the pandemonium and bench-clearing celebration was put on hold as Matthews’ shot was reviewed to make sure it was out of his hand before the shot clock expired. After a tense wait that last several minutes, the officials eventually confirmed that the basket counted.
“I saw the ball in the air and then I heard the buzzer,” Beilein said. “The buzzer could not be in sync with the shot clock or the game clock. It’s happened before. To have them all in sync is hard. There may have been some discrepancy there, but it definitely was out of his hands from what I heard as soon as when I heard that buzzer go off.
“It all worked out.”
For Matthews, it was a thrilling ending to frustrating night where he dealt with foul trouble and finished 3-for-8 from the field, with his final attempt being a mid-range shot that’s alluded him in recent weeks.
“Man, I just stay the course, keep my head up and never be a cancer to the team if I feel like I’m not getting shots or what not,” he said. “I don’t complain about that, but it was ironic that I did hit that shot.”
Matthews’ heroics, however, spoiled Minnesota’s late-game rally that saw the Gophers chip away at a 13-point deficit with 9:10 to play and erase it on a 3-pointer by Gabe Kalscheur with 31 seconds remaining.
Murphy finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and Amir Coffey and Kalscheur each scored 11 for Minnesota (14-5, 4-4), which lost the turnover battle 16-6 and has dropped 12 of the last 13 meetings against Michigan.
“Tough one,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “I felt we played good defense on the last possession there. Ball bounced and went their way. It is what it is.
“I thought we fought back good. I thought Gabe hit a big shot. We were down (13) and made a run and we showed poise. We were calm and even on the last play as heartbreaking as it was, we got that stop.”
Following a first half that saw Michigan miss 17 of its first 20 shots and not get much production outside of Teske, Brazdeikis started to heat up and the defense clamped down during a 23-3 run that gave Michigan a double-digit advantage.
Brazdeikis got things rolling by ripping off eight straight points on a 3-pointer, three-point play and two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot to pull the Wolverines within a point.
Michigan continued to string together stops and turned consecutive turnovers into back-to-back layups by Simpson, including one of the running skyhook variety, to take its first lead at 39-37 with 15:23 to go.
The Wolverines continued to torch the Gophers on both ends and closed the flurry with 11 straight points, with five coming on free throws from Brazdeikis, to make it 52-39 at the 9:10 mark.
But Michigan was far from out of the woods. Roughly a minute later, Murphy snapped Minnesota’s 0-for-9 shooting skid and a scoring drought that lasted 6 minutes, 38 seconds on a put back off his own missed layup.
That was the start of an 18-5 run over the final eight minutes by the Gophers as the Wolverines struggled to close out the game, missing six consecutive shots and three free throws down the stretch until Matthews’ floater.
“We usually have one or two of these a year where I come in and tell you how blessed we are to shoot 3-for-22 from 3, don’t shoot well from the foul line, had seven assists in the game, shoot 30 percent and still win,” Beilein said. “Defense was an anchor for us and it was enough to get the ‘W.’
“I’m really disappointed how we handled ourselves in the closing minutes because our shot selection and decision-making wasn’t great at that time, but that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to keep working at it. Usually this time of year you’ve had a lot of these games. We haven’t had many of these games and, frankly, we’re not as good as we need to be at it if we want to keep winning.”