'Our guys stepped up': Michigan storms back to bounce Colorado State in NCAA Tournament
Indianapolis — Michigan returned to the scene of a catastrophic collapse.
Exactly one week after blowing a 17-point second-half lead to Indiana, the No. 11 seed Wolverines found themselves on the other end of the spectrum at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, staring at a 15-point hole 15 minutes into Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game.
With the season teetering on the brink, Michigan didn’t panic or fold. Instead, the shorthanded Wolverines responded and flipped the script on No. 6 Colorado State just like the Hoosiers did in the Big Ten tournament.
“I was thinking, shoot, if they can do it to us, we can do it to them,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said. “That's what I was feeling.”
After looking dead in the water during a horrific first half, Michigan ratcheted up the defense, wore down Colorado State with its size and stormed back in the second half to reach the Round of 32 with a 75-63 win.
Dickinson proved to be too much inside and finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots for Michigan, which outscored Colorado State 46-27 in the second half and shot 60% from the field after halftime (15-for-25).
Freshman guard Frankie Collins added a season-high 14 points in his first start in place of grad transfer DeVante’ Jones (concussion protocol), while fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks scored 16 and freshman forward Caleb Houstan 13.
Michigan (18-14) advances to face No. 3 Tennessee, an 88-56 winner over No. 14 Longwood, at 5:15 p.m. Saturday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The game will be televised on CBS.
“I'm proud of our team and how in the second half, despite some of the plays that didn't go our way in the first half, our guys really stuck in it mentally,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I think that was a true test for us of mental toughness and how our guys rallied by being down seven at the half but then also in the first half being down 15.
“I think the last game we played versus Indiana, that was a great learning moment for us and how we have to not feel that we've got to play the scoreboard.”
That showed as Michigan bounced back from a first half that was marred by poor perimeter shooting, careless turnovers, and defensive rebounding issues. The Wolverines turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, which keyed a 16-6 spurt over a six-minute stretch where the Rams made two field goals.
Dickinson deflected a pass out on the perimeter that Collins scooped up for a fast-break layup to cap a string of six unanswered points. Then after Collins made Michigan’s first 3-pointer at the 17:06 mark, Brooks scooped up an offensive rebound and drained a jumper to give the Wolverines their first lead, 45-44, with 12:53 to play.
“In the first half we were giving a lot of easy looks. Any good team in Division I basketball can hit wide open looks like that,” Dickinson said. “We really tried to lock in and buy into guarding our man and playing Michigan defense out there.”
Colorado State (25-6) pulled back ahead by four before Michigan answered with another flurry. Houstan got hot in a hurry and canned two 3-pointers in a span of 38 seconds, putting Michigan ahead for good, 53-49, and forcing a Colorado State timeout with 9:47 to play.
The Rams tried to stop the bleeding with a deep ball, but the Wolverines attacked the paint and kept pushing. Collins followed a three-point play by Dickinson with a driving layup to cap a 17-6 run that put Michigan up, 62-55, with 5:35 remaining.
Colorado State never got closer than four the rest of the way. Michigan made nine free throws in the final 3:37 to extend the lead and finished 19-for-22 at the line.
“Without DeVante', I think I may grow up as a coach today because you have to make adjustments, and that's what it's all about,” said Howard, who said he expects to see Jones “soon” but didn’t offer an update on his status.
“Being down 15, we could have easily just said you know what it's time to pack it in. But we are not built that way. That's not what the Michigan culture is all about. We are going to compete till the end. I respect the resilience that they showed.”
Dischon Thomas had 15 points on five made 3-pointers, David Roddy finished with 13 points on 11 shots, and Kendle Moore scored 10 for Colorado State (25-6), which shot 29% from the floor in the second half (9-for-31).
The Rams finished 12-for-35 from 3-point range and scored 17 points off 15 Michigan turnovers, but they were outscored 34-16 in the paint.
“Sometimes it's a great thing when shots go down, but we had so many shots go down early. Sometimes that can be a curse where we maybe were settling a little bit too much,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “I thought this game was won in the paint. We've been pretty good in the paint. Early on we were able to guard the lane a little bit better and they were making shots and imposed their will. We missed a lot of shots in the paint. Some of that is their length. Some of that is rushing.
“When you play high-level teams and you miss a shot in the rack zone and the other team gets the rebound, they are going to hurt you in transition. Those were huge plays. There were a lot of swings that way where we didn't deliver, and they came back and did it.”
Colorado State gave Michigan everything it could handle with a hot start. The Rams drained four of their first five 3-point attempts — three of those over Dickinson — to jump out to a 14-7 lead with 15:18 left in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines looked like a team that was without its starting point guard and lacked direction on offense. Michigan scored 13 points and turned it over eight times in the opening 13 minutes. Cold perimeter shooting and defensive rebounding problems didn't help as Michigan fell behind, 28-13, with 5:09 left in the half.
“If I get rattled and get annoyed with the score and feel like all the yelling, sometimes that can seem like you're not prepared. I just wanted to calm them down,” Howard said. “So how could we keep it simple when we're able to make plays and put guys in position where they can make winning plays.”
From that point on, the Wolverines started to mount their comeback. Collins snapped a 10-0 flurry with a three-point play and Michigan closed the half on a 16-8 run, cutting the deficit to 36-29 at the break despite being outscored 24-0 from 3-point range, committing nine turnovers, giving up eight offensive rebounds and not making a basket outside the paint.
“Every game that you play throughout the year and all the games that you play leading up to this point are teaching moments,” Howard said. “It was great to know that what we've worked on in practice, the film opportunities and to be able to apply it — it's not going to always go perfect for 40 minutes. It just doesn't work that way. But our guys stepped up when they had to.”