NEW YORK — Short on thrills and wins since the season began, the Michigan men’s basketball team also found itself short one of its best players Saturday night. But to compensate, the Wolverines used a home-game atmosphere at the Barclays Center to squeak out a 68-65 victory over Standford.
Michigan (7-4) fended off a comeback down the stretch as it salvaged the win in a game where its depleted frontcourt fouled 14 times.
Sophomore forward Mitch McGary, nursing a mélange of bumps and bruises suffered from a collision with the basket support in practice this past week, sat out the game. He will be evaluated by doctors over the next few days, though Michigan coach John Beilein was careful to note that it was not a head injury.
Michigan was bolstered in Brooklyn, N.Y. with overwhelming crowd support, even 600 miles from home. The Wolverine hype video was played, arena advertisements catered to Michigan supporters, and The Victors was played through the sound system as the Wolverines retained their composure in the final minutes to earn their first win over a top-50 RPI opponent.
From early in the first half to midway through the second, Michigan led Stanford, though it ebbed from seven points to a single point. Then a 3-pointer by sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht put the Wolverines up by double digits before the Cardinal (8-3) stormed right back in the last ten minutes. Ultimately, a few missed free throws by Stanford and aggressive takes by Michigan in the final possessions were enough to seal the win.
“We’ve had some losses this year that the situation went the wrong way for us,” said sophomore guard Nik Stauskas. “So, today, to finally get that win and grind it out felt great.”
Driving to the rim just as confidently as he shoots the 3-pointer, Stauskas led the Wolverines in scoring with 19 points on 11 shots. His aggressiveness yielded nine free-throw attempts, all makes. Perhaps the two most important attempts came in Michigan’s final possession to boost the lead to three points with eight seconds to play.
“We’re always trying to be aggressive because we want to put pressure on refs to make those calls,” Stauskas said. “And we saw them making those calls. We just wanted to be as aggressive as possible and try to get the ball in the middle of the paint.”
It wasn’t as if the Wolverines adjusted seamlessly to McGary’s absence, though. The Cardinal scored 34 points in the paintand found success getting the ball to 6-foot-11 center Stefan Nastic, who scored 14 points on six shots.
When McGary’s replacements were able to stay in front of the Cardinal big men, they couldn’t help but foul. The redshirted trio of big men had to be rotated in and out of the game as each one-upped the other in the fouls column. Redshirt junior and starter Jon Horford, along with fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan, both fouled out, while redshirt sophomore Max Bielfeldt was charged with four fouls.
Beilein went without a big man in the final 44 seconds, choosing to hold out Bielfeldt and retain the redshirt on freshman Mark Donnal. A natural ‘3,’ sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III played the ‘5’ in the last minute and exploited his advantage in quickness to score a basket with 14 seconds remaining to make the lead 66-62.
Robinson paced the Wolverine attack in the first half with 11 points, finishing with 17, while the third sophomore swingman on the roster was held in check. Guard Caris LeVert scored only a single point and missed each of his seven field-goal attempts. His two missed free throws in the final minute had the potential to be devastating.
With two minutes left, Stanford’s Chasson Randle put in a layup to draw the Cardinal within two points — the first time the game was within a possession since early in the half. The lead would be whittled to one, but no further.
Following the two Stauskas free throws, Randle managed a 3-point attempt to tie, but tight defense forced the air ball, and freshman guard Zak Irvin came away with the rebound and a victory.
Michigan has 11 days before its first Big Ten contest at Minnesota, and it’s not clear whether McGary will be ready to play by then.
“His whole body is sore,” Beilein said. “We don’t know what’s causing the soreness, but he’s really banged up, head to toe. We are giving him some tests, trying to figure out what’s causing the different discomfort he’s having all over the place.”
Still, things could have been even worse for a team that had fallen short of meeting each of its non-conference challenges this year.
“It would have been a difficult holiday season here if we had not won that game,” Beilein said.