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November 22, 2013

Stauskas sparks Michigan comeback win

After the Wolverines lost their first game of the year, 77-70 at Iowa State, the question on everyone's minds was simple: who is going to be THAT GUY on this team?

For the better part of the last two years, the Michigan basketball team didn't have to worry about it. With the game on the line, Trey Burke was going to put the team on his back - and, more times than not, good things would happen.

In Ames, Iowa, the Wolverines did not answer the question.

Friday night in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, they very well may have.

Sophomore Nik Stauskas finished with a game-high 26 points, 23 of which game in the second half and overtime, to help Michigan overcome a deficit that grew to as many as 16 points in the second half to win 82-80 in overtime.

"I think I got a couple good looks in the first half, they just didn't go down," Stauskas said. "The second half I just got into a rhythm a little bit more, started being more aggressive and getting to the basket. Anytime you can get to the free throw line a lot it's a good way to get easy points on the board and get your confidence up so that's what my deal was in the second half."

Stauskas shot just 1-of-4 in the opening 20 minutes.

With his patented three-point shot not falling, Stauskas relied on his inside game in the second half. He muscled into the paint, drawing fouls and finding easy layups and a few monster dunks.

The 16 pounds of muscle Stauskas, now 6-6, 205, has packed onto his frame since the NCAA National Championship Game last season certainly helped.

But Stauskas couldn't do it by himself.

"We came out all fired up [in the second half] and we didn't get a couple breaks at the other end, a couple of loose balls and then we came down and really didn't execute on offense," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "All the sudden you look and it's 16 points.

"[Assistant coach] Jeff Meyer said in the huddle, 'We're not going to score 14 points in this one possession. It's got to be two-by-two.' We just worked at it and changed up some things we were doing and obviously we slowly crept into the game."

Sophomore forward Mitch McGary also played a big part in the comeback.

Coming off the bench, as he did in his first two games since working back into the lineup following a back injury, McGary played 33 minutes, a season-high.

He added 14 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double, and added three crucial assists to spring some more offense.

"Mitch McGary is obviously just an outstanding player," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He didn't do anything that surprised us, he's just talented. He played like great players play, he played great basketball.

"Mitch is a special, unique, extremely skilled big man that has a great future in the game of basketball. His strength is his basketball IQ. He makes great decisions with the ball, kind of like a point center.

"He not only performs at a high level himself, but he makes his teammates better. You have to give him a lot of credit for being a guy who's a tough, skilled, smart basketball player. He's a handful. You can expect him not only to be successful in this tournament, but I think there will be a lot of other coaches that feel just like I feel right now."

In the early goings, Michigan did not have an answer for Michael Ojo, the Seminoles' 7-1 center. But McGary effectively stifled him, limiting Ojo to eight points.

"We just didn't want to go home with another loss on our chests," McGary said. "We came together as a team and before the game, the coaches made a great point for us to stay together. We fought through that adversity the whole time and possession after possession we got stops and it paid off in the end."

Freshman point guard Derrick Walton added 15 points, and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III found a spark late in the second half, finishing with 13.

The Wolverines will play Charlotte Sunday at 6:30 p.m. for the tournament title.

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