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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Michigan 67, Pitt 62

By Michael Rothstein

NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts from No. 4 Michigan’s 67-62 win over Pittsburgh in Wednesday's semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off:

Overview: In its first real test of the season, Michigan got a glimpse of exactly what it would take to win a game in the Big Ten. Pitt is as physical as a Big Ten team and has experience, shooters and depth.

And the No. 4 team in the nation was challenged heavily. Michigan really struggled with Pitt’s ball movement in the first half, often resulting in open shooters on the outside. The Panthers made 5 of 12 shots from beyond the 3-point line in the first half and had a 33-29 lead.

The Wolverines didn’t come alive until they briefly switched into their 1-3-1 zone defense -- proven effective with length at the top (Nik Stauskas) and on the wings -- and used turnovers to transition into points. When they did, they started to find some offensive momentum.

Turning point: Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. let the 3-pointer fly and hung his arm up in the air. There was little doubt the ball was going in. And as it fell through the net, giving UM a 51-47 lead, the Wolverines seemed to take the momentum with them. Michigan never trailed again.

Key player: Hardaway Jr. grew up seeing his father play in Madison Square Garden. Now, he has his own highlight. Besides the momentum-shifting 3-pointer, he had a variety of pro-level moves and smart decisions. Even though his 3-point shot wasn’t falling (1-of-7), he didn’t force many shots, especially in the second half with the game on the line. That is a big growth in his game from a season ago, when he would have forced more shots in this type of atmosphere. Hardaway Jr. had 16 points and five rebounds.

Key stat: 3-of-17. That was Michigan’s 3-point shooting against Pittsburgh. Even last season, a percentage like that would have meant an almost certain loss for the Wolverines, who were reliant on the outside shot to win and bring them back into games. Not this season.

Miscellaneous: Michigan unveiled a new warm-up shirt Wednesday night with the words "WE ON" screen-printed in large maize and blue lettering. It has to do with one of the themes in the Wolverines' locker room this season, stemming from a light switch each player has to flick on inside the room before he steps out onto the court. ... Pittsburgh showed off its versatility and depth, playing 10 guys nine minutes or more. Every player but freshman Steven Adams scored, and while the Panthers didn’t have a dominant player, seven players had five points or more. Lamar Patterson had a team-high 14 points.

Up next: After a day off for Thanksgiving, Michigan will play Kansas State in the final of the NIT. It will be a bit of familiarity for both coaches as John Beilein and Bruce Weber used to face each other in the Big Ten when Weber coached at Illinois. Pittsburgh will face Delaware in the third-place game.