COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT : Waves Come Oh So Close : Midwest Regional: Upstart Pepperdine takes the game to overtime before falling to Michigan, 78-74.
If the Pepperdine basketball team was searching for respect, it found it here.
This was supposed to be a relatively pain-free victory for Michigan on the road to another shot at the Final Four.
But somebody forgot to tell the Waves.
Pepperdine matched the third-seeded Wolverines stride for stride before finally losing, 78-74, in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional at the Kansas Coliseum.
The 14th-seeded Waves (19-11) even won over the crowd of 10,036 with a spirited comeback in the second half.
Michigan led, 39-32, at the half and the Wolverines appeared on the verge of taking control several times in the second half. But Pepperdine wouldn’t let them.
The Wolverines opened a 61-51 lead on a three-point basket by guard Jalen Rose with 7:22 remaining.
That’s when things started to get interesting.
The crowd started to move behind the Waves after 6-foot-9 center Juwan Howard of Michigan was called for his fourth foul with 6:24 remaining and engaged in a stare-down with Pepperdine guard Damin Lopez, who is a foot shorter.
“We didn’t say anything to each other,” Lopez said. “Actually, I just stared at him and he stared back and the crowd got behind us because it was like David and Goliath.”
The crowd also sided with the Waves less than a minute later when Lopez dived for a loose ball and Michigan reserve Makhtar Ndiaye, sitting on the bench, caught him in the shoulder with his knee.
“It was too close to me because I didn’t see Makhtar push him,” Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said. “I just hope you wouldn’t plant a scenario that we’re the bad guys. Makhtar is just a freshman, and he’s only been here two months.”
Maybe so, but both incidents only served to ignite the crowd and give a boost to Pepperdine.
The Waves went on a 9-0 run, closing to within one point on an off-balance three-point basket by Lopez with 3:41 remaining.
They completed their comeback when forward Clark James hit a three-pointer for a 66-64 lead with 1:38 to play.
Pepperdine went ahead for the last time, 68-66, on a layup by center Derek Noether with 43 seconds remaining. After Michigan’s Howard tied it up on a layup with 17 seconds left, Pepperdine had one last chance to win in regulation.
But Lopez had to hurry a jumper as time expired and it was blocked by two Wolverine defenders.
Michigan then scored the first six points in overtime and made four consecutive free throws in the final minute to hold on for the win.
It was probably the best Pepperdine has played in a season filled with highs and lows. Coach Tom Asbury did not want to call it a moral victory, however.
“I don’t think it is because we didn’t win,” he said. “We didn’t come here to play hand grenades where close wins. I’m pleased with our effort, but the bottom line is we’re going home tomorrow.”
Michigan was simply happy to survive to play again Saturday.
“The first round of the tournament is always the toughest” Howard said. “When you play a team like that and they’re an underdog and they get the crowd behind them, you have to play with poise, and that’s what we did.”
Howard led the Wolverines with 28 points and nine rebounds. But he scored most of his points in the first half.
Pepperdine forward Dana Jones also helped the Waves stay in the game by holding Rose, Michigan’s leading scorer this season, to 13 points.
The Waves were led by Lopez with 21 points, all of which came on three-pointers. He was seven of 17 in three-point attempts. Jones had 15 points, moving into second place on Pepperdine’s all-time scoring list, and nine rebounds.