- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The matchup between No. 5 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota at the Barn on Thursday night was billed as a battle between a pair of top-10 squads fighting to maintain their voice in the Big Ten title discussion. But the Gophers were silent. An early Michigan push in the second half changed the game, as the Wolverines left the Gophers behind in their 83-75 victory.
Overview: In the first half, both teams refused to guard the 3-point line. The oversight, however, added to the excitement. Michigan connected on 6 of 11 shots from beyond the arc (54.5 percent). Minnesota shot 71.4 percent from the 3-point line (71.4 percent). But those marks highlighted their respective defensive gaps. The Wolverines carried a 36-30 lead into the second half, a margin that Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 points before halftime) helped create. They extended that edge early in the second half with a 20-7 rally that led to a 56-37 lead. The Gophers couldn’t stay with Trey Burke (18 points, 9 assists) or Hardaway Jr. The duo toyed with Minnesota as the Gophers tried to adjust between man-to-man and zone. Minnesota made a brief run, but Michigan’s 3-pointers (10-for-20) were the difference. Just like last weekend’s loss at Indiana, the Gophers spent the evening trying to overcome a deficit. And in the end, they couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, Michigan made a statement about its Big Ten and national title hopes with a dominant performance -- ignoring the final, sloppy minutes -- against a top-10 squad. Minnesota’s Austin Hollins had 21 points in the loss.
Turning point: That run in the second half was devastating for Minnesota, uplifting for Michigan. The Wolverines showcased that top-rated offense (No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency) when they pounced and turned the game for good. On the road, especially in a league like the Big Ten, I think you have to initiate in a hostile environment. The Wolverines recognized that and did something about it, quieting the Barn crowd in the second half.
Key player: Burke was the maestro for the Michigan, but Hardaway (21 points, 6 rebounds) was the playmaker. The Gophers didn’t have an answer for him. He raced up the floor and picked up easy buckets in transition. He hit jump shots. He hit 3s. He was a problem all night for Minnesota.
Key stat: The Gophers committed 15 turnovers. That’s their story. Teams rarely overcome sloppy ballhandling to get a win over a top-five opponent. Minnesota didn’t take care of the ball because the Wolverines did a great job of pressuring. But the Gophers were also irresponsible with possessions.
Other thoughts: Russ Smith and Phil Pressey might be faster, but Burke can shift gears in ways no other player in America can. That’s why it’s so difficult to stay in front of him. That’s also why Aaron Craft deserves more credit for his defensive effort against Burke on Sunday. ... Freshman Mitch McGary had a tough task. He was matched up against Trevor Mbakwe on multiple possessions. But he didn’t back down. He’s maturing. ... Before the game, I talked to an NBA scout who told me that he’d “been waiting” for Rodney Williams to blossom the way he has thus far. But he went 4-for-12 against the Wolverines and didn’t play with the same discipline he’d showcased in past games.
Next game: Michigan will face Purdue next Thursday in Ann Arbor. The Gophers will face Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday.