Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin lead Michigan past Oregon
New York — With three players who went to the NBA after last season, Michigan coach John Beilein was anxious to see how his new Big Three would respond to being in prime time.
On a New York stage, the young Wolverines didn't have a perfect performance, but passed their first test. No. 19 UM came through down the stretch and took a 70-63 victory over Oregon on Monday night in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center.
The win pushes the Wolverines to tonight's championship game, where they will face their toughest test, No. 12 Villanova, which beat No. 14 VCU in the other semifinal.
Zak Irvin (19 points) and Caris LeVert (18 points) played starring roles for Michigan (4-0), which played its first game away from Crisler Center this season. After a pair of lopsided wins to start the season and a nine-point win over Detroit on Thursday, the Wolverines were challenged down the stretch and didn't take control until the final minute.
"We needed that. Whether it was Detroit or our European trip, we haven't been challenged," Beilein said. "We had to inbound the ball late and make big foul shots…huge steps for us in our development. Even though we had some veterans out there, those guys haven't been the guys in the past, breaking the press.
"We've had other people so it was really good to have them go in there and do that."
UM finished the game by making 10 of 13 free throws in the final eight minutes and only had three field goals in that span, including a three-point play by LeVert with 2:59 left to make it a 61-57 lead and a 3-pointer by Irvin with 1:25 remaining the stretch it to 64-59.
But the best supporting role came from freshman Ricky Doyle, who had a season-high 10 points, with a critical putback to help put the game away at 68-63 with 37.1 seconds left.
"It was huge for us, especially down the stretch. Coach calls those the outliers and Ricky was definitely one of those, getting big offensive rebounds and a couple and-ones as well," said LeVert, who also had five rebounds. "He played big for us."
When Oregon (3-1) got within 55-53 with 5:13 left, LeVert began attacking the rim, getting to the free-throw line on three straight possessions. He split the first pair, made the next two and had the three-point play with just under three minutes left after the Ducks had cut it to 58-57.
Oregon clawed back behind Joseph Young (20 points), who had eight straight free throws in the final 3:18, to keep the Ducks close. But Doyle helped grabbed a miss, pivoted in the post and converted the lay-in to make it 68-63 and Oregon never got closer.
"The guys played hard. We just didn't play very smart and that's my fault," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "We didn't run the offense the way we should have. We gave up a lot of easy baskets and that's my job to prevent that.
"I like their effort; I like the way they got on the board. Again, our execution has to get a lot better and our movement has to get a lot better."
Oregon dominated the rebounding margin, 41-29, including 18 on the offensive end.
Michigan looked to pull away in the first half, with a dunk by Aubrey Dawkins, a lay-in from Irvin and a jumper from Mark Donnal to make it 25-18, but the Ducks answered with seven straight points from Dillon Brooks (14 points).
The Wolverines finished with an 8-2 spurt — including a three-point play and a tip-in by Doyle — and led, 33-27, at halftime.
Oregon answered in the second half, opening with an 8-3 spurt, to cut Michigan's lead to one, but LeVert, who went 11-of-13 on free throws, hit three of four and Kam Chatman split a pair.
"Zak didn't have much room and the second half, but the first three he hit, when they came charging out of the locker room," Beilein said, "he hit one with a guy right in his face. The kid can really shoot and is a big-game player."