By RICK FREEMAN/AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Tim Hardaway Jr. brought the ball up the court, then dribbled between his legs and headed to the left. Then he flashed back to his right, rose up and knocked down a midrange jumper.
The crowd at Madison Square Garden gasped at the crossover, which was reminiscent of his famous father’s most memorable move. Michigan fans jumped up and cheered. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber called timeout, but it didn’t work.
Hardaway scored 23 points to power No. 4 Michigan to a 71-57 victory over the Wildcats in the final of the NIT Season Tipoff on Friday night.
Glenn Robinson III had 12 rebounds, and Trey Burke and Jon Horford had 10 points apiece for the Wolverines. Hardaway made 10 of 15 shots from the field before he was kneed in the head with less than four minutes left. He returned to the bench in time to celebrate with the rest of his team and collect the tournament MVP award.
“This is what he works for. He works hard at not just being a shooter but to have an in-between game, be a rebounder,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “The biggest thing is his work ethic. That just doesn’t happen. He’s got great DNA, but DNA doesn’t get you there alone.”
Hardaway wasn’t available to talk to reporters, but Michigan trainer John DoRosario said the junior passed his concussion tests and was cleared to fly home. The Wolverines’ next game is Tuesday against No. 16 North Carolina State.
Rodney McGruder had 16 points and seven rebounds, and Angel Rodriguez scored 10 for Kansas State (5-1).
Michigan (5-0) won the tournament, previously known as the Preseason NIT, for the first time. It was the Wolverines’ first title in a significant preseason tournament since the 1997-98 season, when they beat Syracuse to capture the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.
“Those who stay will be champions,” Beilein said, citing the aphorism of former football coach Bo Schembechler. “So whenever we have a chance to do something like this, we embrace it and go for it like there’s no other games in the season.”
Speaking of football: Although this appears to be one of Michigan’s best basketball teams since the Fab Five era, fans at the Garden chanted “Beat Ohio!,” looking ahead to Saturday’s football game against the archrival Buckeyes.
The Wolverines struggled at the end of the first half against Kansas State while Trey Burke and Jordan Morgan sat on the bench in foul trouble. But Hardaway took over after the break.
“I knew we were going to come out in the second half and make adjustments,” Burke said. “I knew that Tim was the hot hand, and they were playing and waiting for me to get to the lane.”
Hardaway made four baskets in the first eight minutes as Michigan got out to a 49-30 lead. His crossover, on which he juked Kansas State’s Will Spradling far out of position, made it 43-27, and Michigan kept up the pressure, taking a 21-point lead with a little over 10 minutes to play.
From there, it was mostly a formality.
In its semifinal, Kansas State overcame a pesky Delaware team that should contend in the Colonial Athletic Association, but Michigan was several notches above the Blue Hens and the Wildcats didn’t have much of an answer. They got off to a slow start in each half, and spent most of their effort trying to chip away at Michigan’s lead.
“We spotted them six to start and spotted them eight or so the second half and that’s the game and you’re just playing catch-up,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said..
Michigan had a 10-point advantage midway through the first half, but gave some of it back after Morgan and Burke each got two fouls. The Wildcats were outshot 48 percent to 29 percent in the half, but only trailed by five at 29-24.
The Wildcats should be favored in their next four games before they face No. 7 Florida on Dec. 22. They open the Big 12 season Jan. 5 against Oklahoma State.
Michigan’s road isn’t as easy – the Wolfpack come to Ann Arbor on Tuesday, and Michigan returns to New York on Dec. 15 for a game against West Virginia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“We got to go prove it again,” Beilein said. “The season is a marathon. This is maybe the first 400 yards or something of that marathon, but we ran it well.”
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)