ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)—Michigan looked like the team it expected to be while No. 15 Connecticut struggled—again.
Zack Novak made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left and Manny Harris followed with a layup to power the Wolverines to a 68-63 win over the Huskies on Sunday.
The Wolverines (10-7) earned the signature win they needed in a season that started with them ranked 15th, coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. They’ll have to finish the season very strong to earn another bid, but beating Connecticut could prove to be important.
“It’s got to help us,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
The Huskies (11-6) have lost three straight for the first time since closing the 2006-07 season with four losses.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Jerome Dyson said. “We’ve got to fight through it because if we don’t fix this right now, we’re going to run out of time to fix it.”
Connecticut’s Kemba Walker finished with 15 points, Gavin Edwards scored 14, Dyson had 13 and Stanley Robinson added 11. The rest of the Huskies combined for 10 points.
Connecticut struggled at the free-throw line, missing four in the last 45 seconds and going 16 of 25 overall.
“We lost the game because we couldn’t make foul shots,” coach Jim Calhoun said.
Dyson, the team’s leading scorer, was limited because of foul trouble and was 5 of 16 from the field and 2 for 5 at the line.
“That was tough,” he said. “I know how much my teammates needed me out there and I know how much I wanted to be out on the floor. It was tough to sit for 17 minutes.”
Harris, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, continued to play well for Michigan. For a change, he got plenty of help.
“Michigan needs that,” Calhoun said. “Harris and (DeShawn) Sims can’t be the only stars in town.”
Stu Douglass scored 13 points—making three 3-pointers—and Novak had 10 points. Sims had eight points and 11 rebounds while dealing with foul trouble and Anthony Wright nearly doubled his season high with nine points.
Novak’s clutch 3-pointer on an assist from Harris put Michigan ahead 61-58. Novak also made two free throws with 27 seconds left to seal the victory, leading to a fired-up crowd rushing the court after a desperately needed win.
“This is definitely going to boost our confidence,” Harris said.
Harris opened the second half with a putback to put the Wolverines up by 11. Connecticut responded with a 16-5 run that Edwards capped with back-to-back baskets.
“I thought we should’ve won the game,” Calhoun said. “But you can’t put yourself in that hole, which we seem to be doing a lot lately.”
Both teams took turns with the lead and Novak provided a boost by swatting an alley-oop pass by the Huskies and scoring on a putback on the ensuing possession.
“That’s what he does—that’s why he’s out there,” Beilein said. “He’s in a bit of a sophomore slump with 3-point shooting, but he doesn’t come out of the game because he does the little things.”
Beilein said the “gutty performance” showed his players they’re capable of playing with anybody in the country.
Michigan will be challenged in its next three games, traveling to play Wisconsin and Purdue before returning home to face rival Michigan State.
“We definitely needed this with the stretch we’ve got coming up,” Sims said. “Now we know that if we play our best, we can beat the best. We just have to play like this against teams that aren’t in the Top 25.”