When the selection committee pitted Michigan against Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the showdown between two of the nation’s five most efficient offenses figured to be one of the most compelling games of the opening weekend.
Take a bow, Wolverines and Cowboys. Your matchup lived up to the hype.
In what was easily the most well-played, fun-to-watch game of the NCAA tournament so far, Michigan edged Oklahoma State 92-91 because its high-powered offense was just a tick better than that of the Cowboys. The Wolverines rallied from a six-point second-half deficit by sinking 11 of 15 attempts from behind the arc, an unfathomable percentage even for a team that’s in the top 50 nationally in 3-point percentage.
The catalyst for Michigan’s second-half brilliance was point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who carved up the Oklahoma State defense off the bounce and torched the Cowboys from behind the arc. The dynamic 6-foot-1 senior scored 26 points, dished out 11 assists and sank two clutch free throws with 10 seconds to go to put Michigan up four.
Michigan shot 51.8 percent from the field, produced four players with 16 or more points and averaged 1.58 points per possession in the second half, yet it almost wasn’t good enough. The Wolverines had to make every free throw down the stretch to hold off an Oklahoma State offense that shot an even higher percentage for the game and matched Michigan’s second-half points per possession.
Jet-quick point guard Jawun Evans wasn’t as efficient as Walton, but he tallied 23 points and dished out 12 assists. Many of his passes set up Jeffrey Carroll (19 points) and Phil Forte (12 points) with wide-open looks for easy baskets.
Michigan didn’t clinch the victory until D.J. Wilson sank a pair of free throws with four seconds to go to give the Wolverines a four-point lead. Even then, Evans came down and buried a 3-pointer to make the final margin a single point, an irrelevant shot except for in Las Vegas where odds-makers had anointed the Wolverines a 2.5-point favorite.
By edging Oklahoma State, Michigan continues a storybook postseason run that began amid sheer terror.
Since the plane that was taking them to the Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C. skidded off the runway, the Wolverines have not lost a game. They’ll take a six-game win streak into Sunday’s second-round game against either second-seeded Louisville or 15th-seeded Jacksonville State.
More March Madness coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Controversial flagrant foul call costs Seton Hall NCAA game
• Arkansas player credits success to his dad locking him out
• Las Vegas goes nuts over wild NCAA game ending
• Meet Duke’s biggest villains … in Lego form
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