Kansas City,Mo - Michigan was supposed to be the team with the jitters. The Wolverines hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in over a decade, had to sweat out Selection Sunday just to find out if they'd get in.
Turns out they weren't so nervous after all.
Michigan stymied Clemson with its zone defense and survived a late scare in its first NCAA tournament game in 11 years, beating the Tigers 62-59 in the first round of South Regional on Thursday night.
Showing little sign of nerves in their first NCAA game since a booster scandal rocked the program in the 1990s, the Wolverines (21-13) handled (mostly) Clemson's frenetic press and held one of the nation's highest-scoring teams 20 points below its average. Manny Harris had 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Stu Douglass added 12 points to send the Wolverines into Saturday's second round against second-seeded Oklahoma.
``Finally!'' Michigan forward Anthony Wright said. ``This is for the team, the coaches, Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan, just giving back to the fans because they've been waiting for this opportunity. It's good to give it back to them.''
Clemson (23-9) nearly didn't let them have it.
After facing mostly man coverage during the ACC season, the seventh-seeded Tigers had to dust off their zone offense and struggled early. Jumpers, 3-pointers, layups - didn't matter. Clemson couldn't seem to get the hang of Michigan's defense and clanged shot after shot, shooting 32 percent, including 5-for-22 on 3-pointers.
Even with their offensive woes, the Tigers still managed to make it interesting.
Sparked by consecutive 3-pointers by Andre Young and another by K.C. Rivers, the Tigers started finding holes in Michigan's defense and went on a 14-0 run to make it 58-57 with just under a minute left. Clemson still had a shot after Michigan's Zack Novak hit just 1 of 2 free throws with 13 seconds left, but Rivers' contested 3-pointer at the buzzer was well short.
Trevor Booker led Clemson with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Rivers added 13 points.
``We were tired and they hung in there. That's why you don't want to be down 15,'' Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. ``It's kind of like a high-wire act: maybe you stay up on it, get it down and bring it into overtime. But the way we were making shots in this game, it probably wasn't going to happen.''
Michigan, whose last tournament win came in the first round over Davidson in 1998, got off to an inauspicious start: two airballs and a shot by Sims that Raymond Sykes swatted into Clemson's bench. The Wolverines settled down after that, solved Clemson's press with relative ease and built the lead to 16 early in the second half before Clemson made its run.
``First time in the tournament in 11 years and we sensed as a team that we wanted to stay in the tournament'' Michigan center DeShawn Sims said. ``It wasn't an accomplishment for us just to make it. Anxiety kicked in. At the end we were able to persevere.''
Maybe it was coach John Beilein's decision to take the team on a trip to the College Basketball Hall of Fame instead of a morning shootaround that kept the Wolverines calm.
Whatever it was, the Tigers didn't have it early on.
Clemson expected to have the advantage after reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade last year. The Tigers were overwhelmed by the experience and lost to 12th-seeded Villanova. They vowed to be more focused this time around, figured they would know what to expect.
They certainly had plenty of time to think about it.
After losing to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament - its fourth loss in five games - Clemson had a week off to prepare for the NCAA tournament. The Tigers spent part of the time holding meetings, going over what had gone wrong at the end of the season, what they needed to do to get better.
The time off didn't help much. If anything, it might have made Clemson a little rusty.
The Tigers missed 17 of their first 21 shots and shot 9-of-33 in the first half, missing all but two of their 12 3-pointers.
``They got up too big on us and we couldn't finish the climb,'' Booker said.
Terrence Oglesby, one of Clemson's two 3-point specialists, had the worst of it.
A 39 percent 3-point shooter during the regular season, Oglesby was 1-for-7 in the first half, then clanged his first shot of the second off the side of the rim. His frustration boiled over a few minutes later, when he was called for an intentional foul for throwing an elbow at Douglass.
Douglass hit the two free throws to put Michigan up 38-28, then the officials ejected Oglesby after reviewing the play. Even though Oglesby finished with just three points on 1-of-8 shooting, the Tigers probably could have used him down the stretch.
``It was selfish of me to lose my cool,'' Oglesby said. ``The team showed a lot of heart bringing it back. I just wish they could have kept it going. It's a miserable feeling knowing that you can't do anything about it.''
Posted: 3/20/09 12:35AM ET