Two teams that some NCAA tournament bracketologists said didn’t deserve to be here battled like they both had something to prove.
In the end, Michigan earned the right to remain.
The Wolverines (23-12) survived a back-and-forth battle in the second half to beat Tulsa 67-62 in their NCAA First Four play-in game Wednesday night at UD Arena in front of a Maize and Blue-heavy crowd of 12,582.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Michigan forward Zak Irvin said. “Especially with the crowd that was able to be here — we had a lot of support. It felt kind of like a home game.”
Trailing 28-20 at halftime, Tulsa (20-12) opened the second half on 12-4 run to tie the game on a three-point play by Shaquille Harrison, and from there, it appeared to be anyone’s game. There were 16 lead changes, and the score was tied nine times.
The Wolverines took the final advantage on an Irvin 3-pointer with 53 seconds left, moments after a Harrison layup put Tulsa ahead 60-59. James Woodard missed a 3 at the other end, and Derrick Walton Jr. sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining.
“The last play we ran for Zak was very similar to the one we ran against Northwestern (to win in overtime in the Big Ten tournament), a little tweak in it, and it got him open where I want to get him open,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I trust him at that time. But those are big things now he’s made those shots. He felt good about it again.”
Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman each scored 16 points, and Duncan Robinson recorded the only double-double of the night with 13 points and a season-high 11 rebounds to lead Michigan. He also had a team-high four assists and two blocks.
Harrison finished with a game-high 23 points for Tulsa, including 16 in the second half.
What’s next: Michigan heads to Brooklyn, N.Y., to face No. 6 seeded Notre Dame (21-11) on Friday.
The Wolverines are 15-7 all-time against Notre Dame and won the last meeting in 2006.
Pivotal play: Irvin had the big 3-pointer to put the Wolverines up for good, but equally important was his defensive rebound on Woodard’s missed trey at the other end with 31 seconds left. He quickly dished the ball off to Walton Jr., who was sent to the line to make it a five-point game.
Unsung hero: Moritz Wagner, a 6-foot-10 forward, had just four points in 22 minutes off the bench for Michigan, but gave Tulsa trouble inside. He had a game-high four blocks and added eight rebounds, including three off the offensive glass.
Spotlight Stat: After making just 4 of 18 attempts from behind the arc in the first half, Michigan turned to its inside game and found much more success – even if it just meant getting to the line. With Tulsa also improving its offense in the second half, it was important for the Wolverines to find other ways to score when the 3s weren’t falling. They attempted just seven treys in the second half and made 13 of 16 free throws – all but two in the second half.