It’s a mistake to think Michigan guard Trey Burke only dominated after halftime in the Wolverines’ 87-85 NCAA Tournament victory over top-seeded Kansas.
True, he was scoreless at the break, and finished with 23 points in a dazzling shooting display that included one of the tournament’s signature moments — a long-distance three-pointer that send the game into overtime.
But Burke excelled throughout the game. His five first-half assists, especially dump off passes to Mitch McGary that led to easy buckets, were critical in keeping Michigan close when it appeared the Jayhawks would run away.
“I stayed confident,” Burke said. “I tried to get everybody involved.”
Still, what most will remember is Burke’s scoring spree, pulling the Wolverines from the brink of elimination and sending them into Sunday’s South Regional final. As much as the final moments came down to Burke breaking down the Kansas defense, he deflected the credit.
“This team is at its best when everyone is not sitting around looking at me,” Burke said. “We’ve been playing our best basketball the last two or three weeks because everybody is involved.”
But at least when it came to scoring, Burke became more involved almost immediately after halftime. He buried a three-pointer on Michigan’s second possession and, before the first media timeout, added a pair drives and a free throw for seven points in less than five minutes.
But it was his flurry at the end of regulation that had fans in Cowboys Stadium gasping.
A three-pointer with 1:15 remaining cut Michigan’s deficit, which had been 14 points five minutes earlier, to 74-69.
Burke was just getting started. His drive with 14 seconds left made it 76-73, and when Kansas guard Elijah Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.6 seconds left, everybody in the cavernous stadium knew who would get the first attempt on this possession.
Burke let it fly from 28 feet, and down it went.
“When Elijah Johnson missed, I knew we had a chance,” Burke said. “Coach called a play for me to go into the paint, but I knew we didn’t have much time left. I just stepped back and hit the shot.”
For good measure, Burke opened Michigan’s scoring in overtime with a three and scored on the next possession from 15 feet.
“We were determined the last five to seven minutes,” Burke said.
A day earlier, Kansas coach Bill Self called Burke, a 6-foot sophomore, the nation’s best player. Nothing happened Friday to dissuade him. Even Burke’s scoreless first-half helped McGary come up big. McGary finished with season bests of 25 points and 14 rebounds.
“He took over,” Self said of Burke. “We went under screens a couple of times and let him get confidence, and the next thing you know it was his game.”