A little pep talk about being aggressive went a long way in helping No. 4 Michigan rebound from a stunning defeat.
One day after dropping a one-point squeaker to Memphis in the opening round of the Rainbow Classic, the Wolverines (9-1) got a 19-point performance from Brandun Hughes Sunday in an 85-79 victory over stubborn Washington State.
Coach Steve Fisher said he took Hughes aside before the consolation-round game and gave him a father-son lecture.
“He became aggressive today,” Fisher said. “I talked to him before the game after he told me he felt tentative. He was more aggressive and he was really looking for his shot. He sank a 3-pointer early and it loosened him up a bit.”
Fisher also noted that the team’s overall play improved with Hughes’ slashing drives.
“Our guards did a better job of taking care of the basketball,” he said. “We made better decisions and were able to finish. Mental toughness and high intensity: we need to play with that. That’s our No. 1 priority. I think we came out and played hard from the get-go.”
Hughes said Washington State’s all-around play momentarily affected the Wolverines.
“We didn’t play smart at times and we didn’t execute quite the way we wanted to,” he said. “We’re used to going on big runs and they kind of took us out of that because they kept on fighting back. It was kind of a seesaw battle out there for awhile.”
Michigan’s frustration showed late in the game.
The Wolverines held a seemingly comfortable 75-65 lead with 2:12 to play, but nearly blew it as the Cougars (7-3) got within three points with 28 seconds remaining.
Accuracy at the free throw line salvaged the win for the Wolverines, who went without a field goal over the game’s final 6 minutes. They made 16 of 20 free throws during that span.
Louis Bullock, Maurice Taylor and Maceo Baston each had 15 points for Michigan.
Michigan’s well-distributed scoring was countered by Isaac Fontaine, who finished with a career-high 30 points for Washington State. Fontaine scored 10 of his 21 second-half points in the game’s final 2 minutes.
Washington State coach Kevin Eastman said the Cougars’ game plan may have been faulty.
“I think we focused too much on controlling the boards,” he said. “It turned the flow of the game. We concerned ourselves with keeping them off the glass. We sagged down so much that their perimeter guys got going.
“Even though they play only seven players, all of them are pretty darn good. If we concentrate on one guy, then somebody else gets you. For instance, Bullock was the key in the first half. We concentrated on him in the second half, and then Hughes took over.”
Michigan will play Pittsburgh, a 60-42 winner over Northwestern, today for fifth place.
Michigan 85, Washington St. 79
WASHINGTON ST. (7-3) - Daniel 2-7 0-1 4, Johnson 2-4 0-2 4, Fontaine 11-29 5-7 30, de la Fuente 2-7 3-4 7, Jackson 0-5 0-0 0, Pengelly 1-1 0-0 3, Archibald 4-5 0-0 10, Crosby 2-4 0-0 6, Slotemaker 1-2 1-1 3, Mack 5-8 2-2 12. Totals 30-72 11-17 79.
MICHIGAN (9-1) - Taylor 6-9 3-5 15, Ward 4-11 0-0 10, Traylor 1-6 3-4 5, Bullock 4-7 6-9 15, Conlan 2-5 1-2 6, Hughes 6-9 7-8 19, Baston 5-7 5-7 15. Totals 28-54 25-35 85.
Halftime-Michigan 40, Washington St. 36. 3-Point goals-Washington St. 8-22 (Fontaine 3-11, Archibald 2-2, Crosby 2-4, Pengelly 1-1, de la Fuente 0-1, Slotemaker 0-1, Jackson 0-2), Michigan 4-14 (Ward 2-7, Conlan 1-3, Bullock 1-4). Fouled out-Daniel, Conlan. Rebounds-Washington St. 39 (Daniel, Fontaine 8), Michigan 32 (Baston 8). Assists- Washington St. 12 (Daniel 3), Michigan 10 (Bullock 4). Total fouls-Washington St. 27, Michigan 19. Technicals- Washington St. coach Eastman, Mack, Traylor. A-1,269.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.