By JOE DePAOLO/Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – They’d spent much of the night in control, having led ever since the 14:42 mark of the first half. But that might have all gone for naught had Michigan failed to convert on a pair of free throws with 9 seconds to go.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, Nik Stauskas was the man at the line.
The sophomore guard, Michigan’s leading scorer entering the night, coolly sank the foul shots, and extended his team’s advantage to 3. They hung on to defeat Stanford by that margin, 68-65, on Saturday night at the Barclays Center.
“It’s a great feeling for us today, to grind out a win against a really good team,” Stauskas said.
In front of 11,039 fans that were largely clad in maize and blue, the Wolverines were able to validate their impressive effort against no. 1 Arizona on Dec. 14. Their 72-70 loss to the top-ranked Wildcats gave Michigan fans reason to believe their squad could compete with anybody.
The victory against Stanford provides even more evidence on that front.
Michigan head coach John Beilein thought it was crucial for his team to come away with the win, given the fact that they won’t return to the court until Dec. 28.
“It would have been a very difficult holiday season here if we had not won that game. Basically because it is the same scenario we just went through,” Beilein said, referring to last week’s loss against Arizona.
Glenn Robinson III added 17 for the Wolverines (7-4), and made a crucial basket with :14 left to extend Michigan’s lead to 4. He helped Michigan overcome several obstacles en route to the victory. Starting forward Mitch McGarry missed the game due to “soreness,” according to Beilein – the result of running into the basket during practice. And Caris LeVert had a tough night.
He entered the game as Michigan’s second-leading scorer, averaging 14 per game, but scored only 1 on Saturday night.
Still, Michigan was able to emerge victorious. Belein has high hopes that this game can serve as a springboard to bigger things for his club.
“There were several times during the game…(where) I just said `We’re getting better right now. I can see it in front of my eyes.”
The Cardinal (8-3) were tough in defeat, keeping the game close even after center Stefan Nastic, who matched his season-high of 14 points, fouled out of with 5:24 remaining. Chasson Randle put Stanford on his back the rest of the way, scoring 12 of the team’s final 15 points, on his way to 18 overall. But his desperation, last-second 3 point try was off the mark, and the Cardinal came up short.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins was pleased by the late-game effort, but recognized that his squad couldn’t make the big play they needed to break through.
“I thought that we had moments,” Dawkins said. “At the end of the game we did a very good job making a run to close it to one possession. And we just could never get over the hump.”
Stanford came into the contest off an impressive performance of its own – defeating No. 10 Connecticut 53-51 on Wednesday night. But they couldn’t quite capitalize on their bid to return to Palo Alto with two big wins over prominent programs. Still, Dawkins, despite clearly being down about the loss, was proud of his group.
“Our kids have a will to win. They’ve always had that. They really compete to the last minute,” Dawkins said. “But tonight, we just didn’t have enough to overcome the lead that they had.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)