College Basketball Nation: Eso Akunne
November, 23, 2012
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts from No. 4 Michigan’s 71-57 victory over Kansas State in Friday's championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
Overview: With its second-half crushing of Kansas State, Michigan won its first in-season championship since the 2006 John Thompson Classic and its first neutral-site tournament since the 1997 Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.
Tim Hardaway Jr. carried the Wolverines with a 23-point, seven-rebound performance, even more important because Michigan (5-0) didn’t receive much help from sophomore guard Trey Burke, who sat for seven minutes of the first half in foul trouble and scored his first basket 21 minutes into the game.
Kansas State (5-1) struggled with Michigan’s pace and athleticism. The Wildcats, who used a methodical, plodding style to knock off Delaware in the semifinals, could not approximate that type of defense against Michigan. The Wolverines were able to run the break well and play strong in the post, even with starting forward Jordan Morgan in foul trouble the entire night.
Turning point: Hardaway threw down a nasty crossover on Kansas State’s Will Spradling before hitting a 15-foot jumper, and Burke followed with a layup on the next possession, giving Michigan a 35-24 lead less than two minutes into the second half and opening up the game for the Wolverines.
Key player: Hardaway looked like every bit a guy who could play in the Garden on the next level as well. He had multiple pro-caliber moves, including a floating layup between three Kansas State defenders and the aforementioned crossover.
Key stat: Forty rebounds. Under coach John Beilein, Michigan has never been a good rebounding team, usually sacrificing wins on the boards for 3-point shots and transition defense. Not this team. The Wolverines outrebounded a strong front line for the second consecutive game, outrebounding Kansas State 40-28 after outrebounding Pittsburgh, 31-21, on Wednesday.
Miscellaneous: Michigan captain (and walk-on) Josh Bartelstein missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. … Michigan also went deep into its bench early, playing little-used reserves Eso Akunne and Max Bielfeldt in the first half. … Rodney McGruder had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. … Hardaway left the game with 3:37 remaining with an injury and did not return. He was taken inside the tunnel before returning to the bench in the final minute. … The NIT Season Tip-Off All-Tournament team comprised Delaware guard Devon Saddler, Pittsburgh forward Talib Zanna, Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez, Burke and the tournament's most outstanding player, Hardaway.
Next game: Michigan heads home to face another BCS-conference team, No. 16 NC State, in an Big Ten/ACC Challenge game on Tuesday night. Kansas State is off until it faces South Carolina Upstate on Dec. 2.