Tim Hardaway

No. 4 Michigan fends off late Pittsburgh comeback to win, 67-62

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NEW YORK, N.Y.– It’s difficult to keep the No. 4 team in the nation on its heels for the first 31 minutes of a game. Pittsburgh did that.

But there’s often a reason behind those polls and, in the final nine minutes of its 67-62 win over Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, Michigan showed why it could have so much Top-5 potential.

“We anticipated that sort of defensive struggle,” said coach John Beilein. “I’m really proud of the way we handled the comeback and made our free throws down the stretch.”

After getting just two shots in the first half, star freshman Glenn Robinson III was 4-of-6 from the field in the second half, finishing with 13 points and keying a 12-3 run in the middle of the final period that helped put Michigan ahead for good Wednesday night.

Tim Hardaway, Jr., also had a big hand in the comeback, scoring 16 points on the night, including an important three-pointer with 6:04 remaining that gave the Wolverines a four-point lead. At that juncture, it was Michigan’s largest advantage of the night.

“Without question, [Hardaway] has worked so hard to be more than just a shooter,” said Beilein. “As far as driving and finishing at the basket, even against tough chests he scored.”

“I think it was a great job of our teammates finding us,” said Hardaway. “I think it was looking at the defense and taking what the defense gave us. Trey Burke and the guards did a great job of penetrating and kicking out to us wings.”

Michigan led by as many as nine in the final two minutes and fended off a late Pittsburgh comeback to seal the victory.

Sophomore Trey Burke, having foregone a chance to jump to the NBA after last season, did not shoot particularly from the field (5-of-16) but finished with a game-high 17 points.

“We just came out at halftime with a different attitude,” said Burke. “We knew pretty much what we needed to fix and the things we needed to change. I think it was just a matter of adjustments from the first half and giving them different looks on the defensive end.”

Pittsburgh’s ball movement on the offensive end was the key to staying in the game Wednesday, resulting in 15 assists on 24 made baskets. True freshman point guard James Robinson was the biggest facilitator of that production, finishing with seven assists and adding eight points.

Dixon got major minutes from his bench, led by guard Cameron Wright. Wright had eight points.

Michigan’s Nik Stauskas was the Wolverines’ biggest contributor off the bench with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

Michigan moves on to play Kansas State in Friday night’s championship of the Preseason NIT. Pittsburgh will play Delaware in the consolation game.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.