ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Missouri, as it had all season, found itself in a position to win. Similar to a lot of games, it slipped away.
Michigan, playing without its leading scorer, scrapped its way to a 65-64 win against Missouri in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday at Crisler Arena.
Extra possessions allowed the Wolverines to outscore the Tigers 25-16 in the final 9:59. The loss means the Tigers (16-14) ended their season losing four of five.
The Wolverines (19-11) advance to the second round to face the winner of the Oklahoma/Louisiana State matchup, which is at 8:30 tonight in Norman, Okla.
“I feel bad for our team,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “We had opportunities, particularly on the defensive foul line where we gave them second possessions.
“It’s a game where we enjoyed a lead, and I thought we could stay together. We’re just a play or two away from a different result.”
Such words could describe most of Missouri’s losses, for the late-game loss is by no means new for the Tigers. In losses to Gonzaga on Dec. 13, Illinois on Dec. 23, Iowa State on Jan. 7 and others, the Tigers were on the brink of wins late but did not convert.
Michigan guard Daniel Horton scored the winning points when he cut from the left wing for a driving layup with 19.6 seconds left.
The primary reason for Tuesday’s late-game collapse came from what used to be one of the team’s strengths, defensive rebounding. Although they began the season as one of the Big 12 Conference’s best rebounding teams, the Tigers failed to keep the smaller Wolverines from grabbing several key opportunities.
Tied at 59 with 2:25 left, Wolverines center Graham Brown missed two free throws, but Chris Hunter collected the loose ball for a layup.
On the next possession after Bernard Robinson, Jr. missed the first of a one-and-one, Hunter retained possession for Michigan until Dion Harris made two free throws for a 63-59 lead with 1:07 left.
“We missed a few free throws down the stretch, but Chris came up with two major, major rebounds for us on the offensive glass,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Those were major rebounds for us.”
The Wolverines trailed 48-40 with 9:59 left after Arthur Johnson scored on a hook shot, but the Wolverines quickly responded. Within four minutes, the Wolverines reduced the difference to 52-51 with 6:09 left.
“We let some key moments get by us,” senior guard Josh Kroenke said. “We let two offensive rebounds which is unacceptable. Michigan played to win, and when they got those boards, they capitalized.”
Playing in his final game, Johnson continued his string of impressive late-season showings with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson, though, had eight rebounds in the first half.
After having a 32-26 lead at halftime, it didn’t take long for the Wolverines to stretch their lead. On their first possession of the half, Harris made a jumper from the baseline. That was followed with a 3-pointer from Horton, which gave them a 37-28 lead after 1:25.
Then the Tigers’ offense finally came to life, scoring on four consecutive possessions. The 11-1 run gave the Tigers a 39-38 lead, their first lead since 17-14.
The lead grew to 43-38 before Kroenke inadvertently tipped in a Sherrod Harrell missed jumper with 12:03 left. Brent Petway received credit for the basket.
Despite that basket, the Tigers surged to their biggest lead of the game with a five-point burst. Johnson’s running right-handed hook shot pushed the lead to 48-40 with 9:59 to play.
The lead, though, would not remain long, for Horton found his scoring touch. Horton, the brother of Missouri recruit Jason Horton, scored 12 of his team-high 20 in the second half.
Horton’s 3-pointer with 7:03 left brought the Wolverines within 50-49 and came on the Wolverines’ third shot of the possession.
Moments later, Horton made layups on consecutive possessions, the first, an acrobatic reverse layup, retook the lead 57-55.
“We just came up short,” junior guard Jason Conley said. “No matter how high you end, it’s going to hurt. We gave it our best, but we came short on a few plays. That’s the story.”
Conley also said aside from the rebounding breakdowns, the Wolverines discovered how to break through the Tigers’ defense, which, for the most part, had slowed Michigan.
Sloppy play, tipped passes and poor communication among the officials marred the first half. Three players, Johnson, McKinney and Robinson Jr., missed uncontested dunks, but the Wolverines gained a 32-26 advantage.
The Wolverines made a 12-1 run during about 4:30 midway through the half to build their biggest lead, 25-17. A Courtney Sims basket with 5:36 left capped the spurt.
During that same time, the Tigers experienced a drought of nearly five minutes.
Johnson, as he did for the past several games, represented the Tigers’ only bright spot. Because Johnson possessed the ability to physically dominate a smaller Michigan interior, he led the Tigers with 12 points and eight rebounds. Johnson could have more, but he missed several layups and made 2-of-6 free throws.
As a team, the Tigers missed 4-of-8 free throws in the first.
In addition to the players’ miscues, the game had to be stopped several times so that the officials could sort out problems.
With 6:12 left, the officials sent the wrong Wolverine to the foul line. Harris made one free throw before the Tigers pointed out that Sims should be shooting. A short discussion revealed the Tigers were correct. Harris’ point was removed from the scoreboard, and Sims was sent to the line. He made 1-of-2.