NEW YORK – Trey Burke scored 17 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. had 16 points and No. 4 Michigan shut down Pittsburgh defensively in the second half to reach the championship of the NIT Season Tipoff with a 67-62 win Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall made a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to make it a one-possession game, and Pittsburgh (4-1) pressed after a timeout. But Michigan (4-0) made eight straight free throws to close it out.
James Robinson made a layup and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left, but missed the free throw and Michigan had the arrow for a jump ball that followed on the rebound. Pittsburgh fouled on the inbounds and Burke made the free throws while Michigan’s fans chanted “Beat Ohio!” – a reference to Saturday’s football game against archrival Ohio State.
Before that game, the basketball Wolverines will play Kansas State for the title Friday afternoon. The Wildcats beat Delaware, which will face Pittsburgh in the consolation game.
Lamar Patterson led the Panthers with 14 points.
It was a disappointing finish for a well-balanced Pittsburgh team that was expected to have an outside shot at contending in the strong and deep Big East conference – and looked set to score a big nonconference win early.
The Panthers led by eight in the first half and six in the second, but Michigan began to use its 1-3-1 defense to slow them down and limit their field goals until they got down to making free throws late.
Before closing with a bunch of layups that Michigan seemed willing to concede due to the game situation, the Panthers shot 5 of 20 from the floor, mostly against the zone.
Hardaway tied it for Michigan at 44 on a layup with a little more than nine minutes remaining, and from there slowly pulled away. Michigan made 18 of 22 free throws to Pittsburgh’s 6-for-11 effort from the line.
A key part of Michigan’s offense is 3-point shooting, and the Wolverines struggled from beyond the arc for most of the game. At one point, they’d made one of 10. Before Glenn Robinson III made one with about 11 minutes to go that cut Pittsburgh’s lead to two points.
Michigan responded after a slow start in its first test after demolishing subpar competition in its first three games — which it won by an average of 35 points – and the Wolverines struggled early.
Pitt led 33-29 at halftime thanks to some poor 3-point shooting by Michigan, whose only make was by Nik Stauskas in a 1-for-7 half. The Panthers made 5 of 12 from behind the arc and their size gave the Wolverines more trouble than they had been used to.
Stauskas finished with 15 points.
In their first four games, the Panthers overcame a brief scare in an overtime win against mid-major Oakland, along with three other easy wins.