Friday’s end-of-game scenario wasn’t a foreign one to this band of Wolverines. As a matter of fact they had become quite adept at staving off nerves during Big Ten play, winning all three contests decided by a single possession. But that experience didn’t make the task of overcoming Illinois’ one point advantage in the final seconds any less stressful.
“I’m not going to lie… I was a little nervous out there,” Nik Stauskas admitted afterward. “I normally don’t get nervous in games and kind of looking at the clock with a 1:00-1:03 left and you’re down. You kind of get that feeling in your stomach, ‘it can’t end this way.’”
Fortunately for Michigan it didn’t. Nerves may have been present for the Maize & Blue, but they didn’t override their preparation. It was through though months of preparation that the players developed an unshakable trust in one another. It’s why freshman Derrick Walton was empowered to make the game-winning play during a nail-biter at Nebraska, and why a struggling Glenn Robinson had the final play drawn up for him en route to a buzzer-beater at Purdue. It’s also why Stauskas was comfortable deferring even when he had planned not to.
“It was last second because when I left the floor I was thinking shoot,” Stauskas said recalling the play. “I had a couple of feet of space to get that shot off and it was a last second decision when I saw (Jordan Morgan) rolling and he was wide open.”
“I saw him looking. I knew he was going to catch it.”
It was a reversal of fortune for a senior that was struggling with his confidence last year at this time after missing a bunny versus Indiana that would have won the Wolverines a share of the Big Ten title. But that never crossed Stauskas’ mind when winning time came. He may be Michigan’s top option in crunch time, but know from their experiences this season that he is far from the only one.
“I couldn’t hit a shot in the second half,” stated Stauskas. “Derrick hit a big shot, Glen hit a big shot… that’s what we need. We need everyone to step up in these kind of games. At this time of the year, you’re not going to have your best game every single game and you know you’re going to get the other team’s best shot. I’m just happy it worked out.”
“I just think we’re really confident in each other. Everyone trusts each other on this team and do a great job of practicing these kind of scenarios and Coach Beilein draws up great plays.”
On if advancing in the Big ten Tournament actually hurts their chances to advance deep in to the NCAA Tournament:
Nik Stauskas: “It is not a waste of energy at all. We’re trying to play for a seed right now. The more wins we can get, the more practice we can get, the better we’re going to play. Playing teams out of the Big Ten, it doesn’t get any better than this. Every night is going to be a tough game and you saw that tonight. This is just preparing us well for the tournament.”
On why Illinois’ zone was effective in disrupting Michigan’s offensive flow:
Nik Stauskas: “I think we settled maybe a little bit, but there zone was really good. It was tough to get inside that zone. They kind of forced us to take a lot of threes and today was just one of those days were things weren’t dropping.”
On the extra motivation this team has:
Nik Stauskas: “As a team, we just don’t get the respect that we deserve. We just finished winning the Big Ten and no one thinks we’re going to win this tournament. That kind of gets us going all the time and you know we liked to be fired up to play.”
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