Burke's moxie in full display
Big shots in final minutes prove Michigan's point guard is beyond being 'freshman'
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Senior Zack Novak walked into the postgame news conference following his team's 56-51 win over No. 6 Ohio State. It was just the second time the guard had beaten the Buckeyes in his four-year career.
The happiness from Crisler Arena had spilled over into the postgame, and all questions of whether this team was for real seemed to have been answered within the previous two hours. But Novak basked in none of that glory, instead shoving his freshman point guard back into the spotlight he has been living in most of the season.
Burke had scored a team-high 17 points and dished out a game-high five assists, but it was his composure in the waning moments that had everyone wondering, "Can he really be just 27 games into his college career?"
With just more than 11 seconds remaining in the game and the 19th-ranked Wolverines clinging to a three-point lead, the freshman had taken Aaron Craft -- one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation -- off the dribble, finishing with a high-arching layup off the glass over former high school teammate Jared Sullinger.
It was just a few possessions removed from another drive where he had beaten Craft off the dribble and crossed over in the lane for a left-handed layup. The 5-foot-11 point guard had in essence put the entire Michigan basketball team, coaching staff and fan base on his shoulders and given the Michigan fans something they haven't had in a long time -- a win, something to be proud of and cling to in this often lopsided rivalry.
Burke said he just tried to stay patient against the Buckeyes, that he had noticed he was playing outside of Michigan's offense a bit early in games, something of a freshman mistake. But against Ohio State, he looked older, more mature, ready to take on whatever might lie ahead for the Wolverines.
But even with his teammates pushing him forward to the media, he was hesitant to talk about himself during the postgame.
"I'm just happy we won," Burke said. "Just to stick together as a team down the stretch, come together after a tough loss there at Ohio State, it shows how much of a team we are."
But it was down the stretch when Burke pulled his team together and put them on his back. Yes, Michigan played team basketball. But it was a 19-year old leading that team.
His teammates called him brave. Michigan coach John Beilein said he had moxie. The announcer referred to him in the pregame announcements as "The Pride of Columbus, Ohio" to a roar from the Michigan fans.
He was all of those things on Saturday night. But the most important and evident was his maturity in the waning minutes.
Is there any point in a game when Burke could lose his composure, one reporter asked Novak.
"Have you seen it yet?" he responded. "I haven't. I have yet to see it, and we're at game 28."
Novak hasn't seen it. Craft surely didn't. And neither did anyone else.
Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.