By Michael Williams
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan Wolverines set a school record for 3-point shots in a NCAA tournament game, made 73 percent of their second-half shots beyond the arc and survived a late Oklahoma State charge to defeat the Cowboys, 92-91, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon.
The seventh-seeded Wolverines (25-11) will meet second-seeded Louisville on Sunday for a spot in a Midwest region semifinal at Kansas City. A Michigan appearance in the round of 16 would be its third in five tournaments.
Michigan’s 16 3-point baskets surpassed the school record of 14 in a third-round victory over Texas in 2014. The Wolverines made 11 of 15 3-point shots in the second half.
Oklahoma State (20-13) trailed, 88-81, with 23 seconds to play before making one last push. But Michigan senior guard Derrick Walton, who scored 26 points with 11 assists and steals, made two free throws with 10 seconds to go. Junior forward D.J. Wilson, who scored 19 points with five rebounds and four blocked shots, made a pair of foul shots with three seconds to play.
Oklahoma State sophomore guard Jawun Evans, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, made a 3-point shot with a second to play.
Michigan’s total of 91 points allowed was the most in a victory in its 27 NCAA tournament appearances. The Wolverines gave up 90 while beating Kansas State in a third-place game in 1964 and a second-round victory over East Tennessee State in 1992. The total was the highest allowed by Michigan in any victory since a 115-107 win over Bradley on November 21, 1986.
Michigan, which leads the nation with an average of just 9.42 turnovers, matched a season-low total of four in the victory. The Wolverines committed four in a victory over SMU on November 18. The Wolverines have won 11 of their last 13 games. They were the eighth-seeded team in the Big Ten tournament and became the lowest-seeded team to win the conference championship in the 20 years of the event.
The unexpected run to a championship turned the Wolverines into a national story after they dealt with a frightening aborted takeoff at the beginning of the trip. “That stuff doesn’t really bother us anymore,” said Michigan senior Zak Irvin, who scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “You get nervous getting on the next plane, but we just let it go behind us.”
Oklahoma State (20-13) entered the game as the 10th-seeded team and was looking for its first tournament win since defeating Tennessee in the first round in 2009. The Cowboys appeared to control things in the middle stages of the first half, leading by as much as seven points with 7:22 before halftime. They were led by sophomore Davon Dillard and junior Jeffrey Carroll, who each scored 9 points on a combined 7-for-8 shooting.
“Their pressure bothered us early,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Once we settled in, we were fine. I just thought there’s five, six times, everybody in the county was saying, ‘They got to stop settling,’ including me and them, but we did it.”
Oklahoma State missed opportunities late in the half when the Cowboys turned six offensive rebounds into just 4 points. The Cowboys dominated the glass with 22 rebounds, compared to 12 for the Wolverines.
In the later stages of the half, the Wolverines began heating up from behind the arc. After starting the half 2-for-9 from 3-point range, Michigan went 3-for-5 in the final six minutes of the half. “They just started dropping,” said Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood. “We let them get a few open looks. A few of them made me cringe.”
Junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 11 points in the half, including 6 from behind the arc. Oklahoma State started the second half strong with a 12-5 run, but the 3-point shot was just too much for the Cowboys to handle.
Michigan heavily relied on the three as Oklahoma State worked to score inside. The Wolverines scored 48 of their 92 from behind the arc, while the Cowboys scored 50 in the paint, 42 a result of layups.
Walton’s game-high total came after a struggle in the first half, when he had just one field goal. “I just tap into the fact that I know I’ve worked really hard and trust me mechanics for the most part,” he said. “…I changed my shot a couple times. It’s just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me. It makes me go out and just play much more free, just knowing they have a lot of confidence in me.”