The heart of a Zack Novak. That's what it takes, in the words of one of Michigan's basketball leaders this season, to infiltrate East Lansing and come away with a win.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., said it, with the determination of one ready to show that kind of heart. He'll never forget his freshman season, going up the Breslin Center and riding off with a 61-57 victory.
There's no question, it took every bit of Novak's skill, heart, lungs and fiery rhetoric to get it done that night. He poured in 6 of 8 from three-point range, turning one into a four-point play after getting hammered on the shot.
He grabbed six rebounds among longer, lankier bodies, helping the Wolverines fashion a 29-29 standoff on the boards, despite the usual over-and-out strategy by Tom Izzo's carom collectors. When it looked like the game might slip away, Novak's not-made-for-TV sideline tirade helped awaken and inspire the Wolverines to dig just a little deeper.
That's the heart Hardaway is convinced Michigan will need, starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
He's right, but it will take more.
That night, point guard Darius Morris - who generally couldn't toss a three-pointer into a swimming pool from a diving board - went 2-for-2 on threes, 7-for-10 overall. Deep reserve Colton Christian even nailed a shot, prompting some wry observations from Michigan head coach John Beilein today.
"You have to really play," Beilein noted, when asked what it takes to win in Izzo's den. "You can't go up there and play an average game. That was an exceptional game.
"Colton Christian almost hit a three. I thought it was a three for a long time - it was the only jump shot he ever hit. He's a good kid, but things were going our way.
"Darius Morris, who hadn't hit a long shot, hit two threes. You have to have things happen. They have to play not their best game. It's what you get this time of year."
There was more. The officiating crew of Ed Hightower, Pat Driscoll and Antinio Petty earned medals of bravery, calling Michigan State for 16 fouls and Michigan 14, in a venue in which an adverse whistle sets 14,798 sets of hair on fire, ignited by Izzo's own.
It takes a lot, and Michigan gave a lot. The Wolverines earned a lot, not only for that season but also for the future. The Wolverines entered that game 1-6 in the Big Ten, with rumblings attendant to their tumblings.
From that point on, they were a different team, battling back to make the NCAA Tournament, run Tennessee off the court in a March Madness opener, and coming within one three-pointer of beating Duke and making the Sweet 16.
They've come a long way, in every way, since. From recruiting to facilities to national respect, it's not the same Michigan heading for East Lansing.
"That gave the team tremendous confidence," Beilein said. "Any highly rated team that we would have played and won a road game
I certainly can count on two hands any of my teams, or most coaches' teams, that beat a top-10 or top-15 team on the road. That's hard to do.
"Doing that, and having it be Michigan State, gave us so much bounce in our step that it really helped us, considering where we had just come from - blowout losses at Indiana and Northwestern, and a terrible loss to Minnesota at home. It just gave us that shot that we needed.
"There was a confidence and belief from our players that still remains within our program."
When Novak went wild, when classmate Stu Douglass nailed the dagger three at the end of that game, Beilein's efforts gained a foothold. It starts with heart, and a freshman was watching closely.
"When we went up there my freshman year, Zack was the catalyst for us," Hardaway said. "You just see the emotion, the toughness, that he brought to the table. Everybody followed him. That's what helped us get that win.
"As a leader of this team, and the seniors on this team, the juniors, they've been through it, and they know what it takes to get a win up there. I think we're a very capable team of doing that."
There's no better opportunity to see how many hearts of a Novak populate the roster.
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