AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Michigan's coaches emphasized something like this all season long, and occasionally they would see it.
A glimpse in practice here. A stretch during a game there. During portions of scrimmages in which they sat point guard Trey Burke to give him rest. But for the past two months, Michigan had not seen something like this in a game.
Michigan played with the offensive flow and precision it was fully capable of Thursday night in a 71-56 victory over South Dakota State in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament, but something was very, very different.
For the first time this season, Burke was in the single digits, a non-scoring factor with six points. A team that had appeared so reliant on its Wooden Award-candidate guard suddenly needed to find someone else to score for it.
“A lot of people say that this is a one-man offense,” Burke said. “But I practice with these guys every single day and I know what they can do. They showed it tonight.”
Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, who had not hit more than one 3-pointer in a game since Jan. 24, made three and scored 21 points on nine shots against the No. 13-seeded Jackrabbits (25-10). Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. hit five 3-pointers and scored 21 points. Freshman Mitch McGary, in the starting lineup in place of Jordan Morgan, had 13 points and nine rebounds.
And all of a sudden, fourth-seeded Michigan looked more like the top-ranked team it had been at one point this season instead of one that struggled over the past month.
“It’s nice for everybody to get to see that we don’t have to rely on Trey night in, night out to score baskets for us to win,” redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford said. “We do need his defense, which is excellent, and we need his passing and all that stuff he does so well.
“But it’s nice that we got to see we don’t need him to score 20 points a game to be successful.”
For a little while, it became a concern for Michigan. The Wolverines (27-7) knew they had talent, but too often Burke came in to bail them out when they needed it. He would make a big play on defense or score points in a quick spurt when the offense started to stagnate.
Even Michigan coach John Beilein, when he saw Burke had gone 0-for-7 in the first half, said he figured he’d go 7-for-7 in the second. But for the first time this season, he didn’t.
“We need Trey to take a lot of shots and we need Trey to carry the offensive load for us, but yeah, sometimes we do rely on him a little bit too much,” freshman guard Nik Stauskas said. “Everyone kind of stands around and watches him play.
“Today, everyone got in the flow of the offense and not forcing it. And it was great.”
Around Michigan, it was indeed great for everyone involved. Burke still had seven assists and helped defend South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters along with Hardaway and Robinson, holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
But offensively, Michigan might have found itself at its most crucial time.