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Freshman Frankie Collins provided the spark Michigan needed in a turbulent year for the Wolverines and coach Juwan Howard, helping the 11th-seeded Wolverines rally from a 15-point deficit to beat sixth-seeded Colorado State 75-63 on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Collins, pressed into the starting lineup because starting point guard DeVante’ Jones was out with a concussion, had season highs of 14 points, six rebounds and 31 minutes. He came in averaging less than 10 minutes per game.
Big man Hunter Dickinson led Michigan with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Eli Brooks had 16 points and Caleb Houstan added 13 for the Wolverines (18-14), who will face either third-seeded Tennessee or 14th-seeded Longwood in the second round of the South Region on Saturday.
The Wolverines, highly touted at the beginning of the season, squeaked into the tournament thanks largely to their stout schedule. Howard was suspended for five games down the stretch for hitting a Wisconsin assistant in the face during a postgame handshake line, and Michigan hasn’t won two straight games in more than a month.
Dischon Thomas scored 15 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting for Colorado State (25-6), and Mountain West Conference player of the year David Roddy had 13 points and six rebounds.
But the Rams could not take advantage of the highest seed in school history, the momentum from nine wins in their previous 11 games or the big, early lead.
Michigan turned the ball over nine times in the first 12 1/2 minutes to fall behind 28-13, but things turned around when Howard reinserted Collins. He finished six of seven from the field and had just one turnover.
Collins scored seven straight points to cut the deficit to eight and Michigan closed within 36-29 at halftime.
He continued the charge early in the second half, capping a 6-0 spurt with a steal and dunk to make it 38-35. And when Houston made back-to-back 3s midway through the second half, Michigan led 53-49.
The Wolverines never trailed again, closing it out at the free-throw line.
Michigan: A year ago, the Wolverines won the Big Ten regular-season crown and came within one win of reaching the Final Four. Most of those players opted to return to chase Michigan’s second national title. After teetering early, the Wolverines gave themselves a chance — especially if Jones returns this weekend.
Colorado State: The Rams had all five starters return from last season’s third-place NIT squad. They’re not likely to be as fortunate again next fall. While this was likely Niko Medved’s best coaching job, it wasn’t the way the Rams anticipated heading home.
Michigan: Moves within one win of a fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance.
Colorado State: Will use this offseason to regroup and reload.