Big X’s quest for a $2 million payday got off to a thrilling start in The Basketball Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Big X, a team that features several former Wolverines and other Big Ten alumni, rallied from a 16-point, second-quarter deficit to edge No. 13 seed Chattanooga Trenches, 81-79, in the first round of the single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament Saturday at The Capital Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Jamel Morris, who played for the Detroit Pistons’ G-League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive last season, hit the winning shot with a running floater off the glass in a game that had an Elam Ending, meaning the first team to reach the target score of 80 points was the winner.
With the wild win, Big X advances in the Midwest Region and will face No. 12 seed Primetime Players at 4 p.m. Sunday with a spot in the Super 16 on the line. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
“I didn't know what to expect. Trenches came out real tough, a lot tougher than us in the first half,” said ex-Wolverine Stuart Douglass, who finished with 25 points and was 6-for-9 from 3-point range. “We're still feeling our team out, trying to figure out who is going to shoot when and where.
“There were a lot of times we were just standing out there looking at each other. When we started to move the ball, a lot of the shots I had were off movement and penetration and getting inside the paint. We just got to make it easier on ourselves. We did not make it easy on ourselves in the first half and it showed a lot. But there's a lot of room for improvement, and even though it was tough and we didn't play it the way we want to today we're feeling good going into tomorrow.”
That feeling nearly turned sour, though, late in the fourth quarter during a tense finish. After Big X wiped out the Trenches’ double-digit advantage and had a chance to win it with a 77-74 lead, Gabe DeVoe (Clemson) was called for an offensive foul on a moving screen.
The Trenches capitalized on the turnover with a layup, blocked Douglass’ 3-point attempt on ensuing possession, and pushed Big X to the brink by draining a 3-pointer to take a 79-77 lead.
Knowing Big X could still win it with a 3-pointer, the Trenches intentionally fouled Morris, who calmly sank both free throws to knot it at 79, to get what they hope would be the last shot.
However, Big X came up with a crucial stop as several defenders swarmed Chattanooga’s Quincy Scates in the lane to force a traveling violation. Big X called a timeout and ex-Wolverine Duncan Robinson, who wasn’t playing since he signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat, drew up a play on the sidelines. It didn’t pan out and led to an offensive foul on Morris.
Big X was able to dodge a bullet as Chattanooga’s Deandre Mathieu got a clean look but had his jumper bounce off the front of the rim, leading to Morris’ drive and floater on the other end that capped the dramatic comeback.
Morris finished with a team-high 32 points for Big X, which had to make several late additions to the roster. Former Wolverines Jon Horford had six points and eight rebounds and Andrew Dakich added three points and seven assists.
“It was tough to get guys to commit. We had two guys commit from Ohio State and for various reasons they had to drop out, so we had to piece together the team with guys out of the conference,” Douglass said. “But it's not easy getting guys to commit in the summer and especially when you don't know each other.
“This was difficult to put together so it's nice that we got this win and have a good feeling out of it. It would've been terrible to go through all this effort then lose this first game.”