Commentary

Beilein leads Michigan to big win

Coach plays to emotion of moment, watches players embrace it and take down OSU

Updated: February 19, 2012, 3:39 AM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There's this scene at the end of the movie "Tin Cup" in which Roy McAvoy, played by Kevin Costner, is down to his final ball.

As he is collapsing from the lead in the U.S. Open at the end of the movie by hitting the same shot in the water over and over again, McAvoy's girlfriend yells at him from the gallery to: "Go for it. Just go for it!"

[+] EnlargeZack Novak
AP Photo/Tony DingInspired by the "random thoughts" of their coach, Zack Novak and the Wolverines knocked off the Buckeyes to stay perfect at home this season.
Twice on Saturday -- once as No. 19 Michigan watched film and another time right before its 56-51 win over No. 6 Ohio State -- Wolverines coach John Beilein brought up this particular scene from this particular movie.

Hours before one of his team's biggest games in his tenure, with a chance to stay in the Big Ten race at stake, he brought up golf.

"Coach said, 'Just go for it. Tin Cup it. Eighteenth hole, hit it in the drink three times, go for it, rip it,'" Michigan senior guard Zack Novak said. "'Tin Cup.' He's got random thoughts."

It is just the quirkiness of a coach who has won everywhere he has been, who has coached his way up from junior colleges all the way to resurrecting one of the bigger basketball programs in the Big Ten.

It worked.

Saturday night was a culmination moment, one he hoped to reach five years ago when he left a comfortable situation in West Virginia to try and resurrect a program two coaches before him couldn't fix.

It started from the beginning Saturday, when Beilein and his wife, Kathleen, showed up outside the arena at 6:45 a.m. with hot chocolate and doughnuts to thank the almost 500 students who waited in line through various points in the night for the best tickets inside Crisler Center.

The support was important, but what mattered at the end was what always does with Beilein: how his team prepares and how he adjusts.

That preparation showed. The Wolverines never trailed. They led by as much as 10 points early in the second half. And they won a game in typical Beilein fashion. Three players -- Novak, Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr., -- combined to take five charges. Three players, led by freshman guard Trey Burke with 17 points, scored in double figures.

His team ran his plan of double-teaming Ohio State star Jared Sullinger in the post almost flawlessly, holding him to four points in the first half. It took him almost 30 minutes to figure out how to score effectively on the Wolverines.

Then, when Ohio State made one final run, Michigan leaned on Burke to make two driving layups. The Columbus, Ohio, native could have been a Buckeye if Ohio State coach Thad Matta had wanted him.

Instead, Matta went with the guard Burke blew by down the left side on his first layup, sophomore Aaron Craft, as his point guard of the future. The guard the Buckeyes recruited over Burke in his class, Shannon Scott, barely played.

Meanwhile, the kid the hometown school didn't want, introduced on this night as "the pride of Columbus, Ohio," led his new school to one of its biggest wins.

Beilein and his band of program-building players have led Michigan into contention for its first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1985-86 -- tied with Ohio State for second place in the league at 10-4, a half-game back of Michigan State with two weeks to go in the regular season.

For Michigan, the atmosphere Saturday was almost as important as the result. The players couldn't help but notice the crowd surrounding them, screeching in joy whenever a Wolverine did anything. They saw an almost packed arena 20 minutes before tip-off -- something that hasn't happened when any of the current Michigan players or coaches have been around.

"When it was the anthem and I looked up and every seat was filled, I knew it was going to be a crazy night," Novak said.

It was a crescendo to what Beilein helped build, what Novak and his fellow senior, Stuart Douglass, led. Novak said he envisioned this moment when he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago, a lightly regarded freshman.

He had watched Beilein's teams at West Virginia. He saw him win with players who were just like him: undervalued. So even he couldn't help but look around and enjoy the moment like almost everyone else involved with the Michigan program.

Beilein, with his "Tin Cup" references and his film-watching obsession and his "Beilein" basketballs the brand "The Rock" created to help with shot rotation, didn't get caught up in it.

If he had one regret Saturday, in a day that went almost perfectly for Michigan, it is that. That it took him until after it was all over, until he ran back into the tunnel with another win -- his team's 20th of the season -- before it hit him.

When he needed a moment for himself to comprehend exactly what happened.

"I just didn't do that," Beilein said. "I got off the court and needed some space by myself. I just really felt good about this win, but I should've. I should've embraced what was going on.

"I was very grateful."

So is Michigan -- that Beilein decided to come here five years ago and that his team listened to his message earlier Saturday.

Beilein wanted his players to go for it. They did.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

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