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December 4, 2012

Wolverines learn lesson about closing out games

With just under six minutes to go in an eventual 79-72 win over North Carolina State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Michigan basketball team held a comfortable 15-point lead over the Wolfpack.

In the ensuing four minutes, N.C. State scored 10 points, collected six total rebounds, a steal and a block.

Just when it looked like the Wolverines would easily walk away with a big-time early season victory, the Wolfpack cut their deficit to five.

Michigan traded buckets with N.C. State in the final two minutes and won by seven, but it was a weak way to close out its strongest win of the season.

Days later, the Wolverines battled through their first road test of the season - at Bradley. After Michigan failed to put the Braves away all afternoon, sophomore point guard Trey Burke made a flashy layup with 3:34 remaining in the game to put the Wolverines up 16, their largest lead of the night.

All Michigan needed to do was finish.

But Bradley - just like the Wolfpack did - quickly climbed back.

After the Burke layup, Bradley went on a fast-strike 11-0 run. During the stretch Michigan tallied as many turnovers as the Braves did offensive rebounds (three).

With their lead suddenly sliced to five, the Wolverines regrouped and won.

At this point, the absence of strong finishes in the waning minutes is definitely a concern.

"We're just trying to finish the games out the way we should," junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "We haven't been really focused out there. That just comes with practice. We have to get more practice, more reps in situations where we're up by a lot or a certain amount of points. We have to do a better job of going out there and playing our hardest each and every position, so we're not giving up easy layups or transition points."

The Wolverines came away from their win at Bradley knowing what they needed to improve upon - but it was a great experience for the young team to go through.

Freshmen Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert all played in their first-ever road game. And they learned a valuable lesson about not taking the foot of the gas pedal in the final minutes of a game.

"That game was definitely a learning experience," Hardaway said. "Going into a hostile environment and trying to get a win, like we did at Bradley, it was very tough. It was loud out there. It was good to see, not only myself, but our young guys and Trey and everyone staying poised. We stayed on our heels and didn't let anything get in our minds about the team coming back. We just tried to move onto the next play."

If the Wolverines find themselves up late in Tuesday's game against Western Michigan, Hardaway and the other upperclassmen will take it upon themselves to make sure everyone stays aggressive and hungry.

"Not only me. Corey Person, Matt Vogrich, Blake McLimans, they all do a great job of making sure our minds are right during the game," Hardaway said. "We know we need to go out there and play our hardest and don't let the other team come back and have a chance to win because it's a long game. Four or five minutes ago, you're up by 10, 15 points - and that could make you or break you. Any team is capable of coming back on you."


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