INDIANAPOLIS – D.J. Wilson had every reason to be unnerved as he walked to the free-throw line with 3.7 seconds left on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse clock. Michigan was clinging to a 90-88 lead over Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the junior forward readied for his shots.
This game was moving too fast for anyone to have time to be nervous but time pauses 15 feet away with no defenders in your face. That can do funny things to the psyche, but it did nothing to Wilson’s.
“I was confident,” Wilson said. “It helps for your last four to go in, and then I’m just a confident shooter. I’m confident at the free-throw line. I really didn’t feel any pressure. My main objective was to go down there and knock them down.”
Wilson did just that, and Michigan needed both of Wilson’s free throws for the 4-point cushion they provided. Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer but Michigan is moving on to the second round of the tournament after a 92-91 victory that tested every bit of fortitude the team has built in its run of 11 wins in 13 games.
Up next for No. 7-seed Michigan (25-11) is No. 2 Louisville, a 78-63 winner against Jacksonville State, on Sunday. It’s a rematch of the 2013 national championship game.
Michigan will need a breather after the game Friday. It ended as it had been played throughout; punch, counterpunch, one team spurts to a lead, the other responds in kind. There was nothing comfortable about any lead, which made the victory all that more satisfying for the Wolverines.
Michigan made 29 of the 56 field goals (51.8 percent) it attempted, including 16 of 25 (64 percent) in the second half. It made 11 of 15 3-pointers (73.3 percent) after halftime. Five different players made 3-pointers for Michigan. Any shot the Wolverines put into the air seemingly found nothing but the bottom of the net.
Oklahoma State matched that offensive prowess, making 35 of 64 shots (54.7 percent), although its damage came mostly on the inside. Evans was as-advertised, a blur with the ball who scored 23 points, had 12 assists and 7 rebounds. He offset Derrick Walton Jr. (26 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds) with the exception that Walton’s team won.
“I think everyone knew it was going to be one of the best matchups of the day. I’m just proud how well Derrick played,” said senior guard Zak Irvin, who scored 16 points. “Evans is a great player but I think Derrick got the best of him today.”
Evans put Oklahoma State up 64-62 with 11:16 to play, taking advantage of being guarded by Duncan Robinson on the perimeter with a couple of crossover moves that left Robinson grasping at air and Evans unencumbered to the rim. A minute later, Robinson drained a 3-pointer that gave Michigan a 67-64 lead.
A game that featured 12 ties and 16 lead changes was never tied again and never had another lead change.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays and with Evans having the ball in his hands so much – he’s so fast, so quick – and he’s such a great playmaker for others, so we had a tough time on him,” Robinson said. “When a team scores 91, you have to hit some shots to win that one. We were fortunate today, but I think we’ve proven we can win in different ways. Today was making shots, but I think we’ve proven we can get stops and do other things.
“We made plays down the stretch, and that’s what it’s all about on a stage like this.”