INDIANAPOLIS – Freshman point guard Frankie Collins was thrust into Michigan basketball‘s starting lineup for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and he responded by saving his team from an early exit.
The No. 11 seed Wolverines were forced to play without starting point guard DeVante’ Jones on Thursday against No. 6 seed Colorado State due to injury. Jones, who averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game this season, has been the team’s second-best player since February.
For the first 15 minutes of the game, it didn’t look like Michigan would be able to overcome his absence.
As the first-half game clock ticked under five minutes, the Wolverines trailed the Rams by 15 points. Michigan had managed just 13 total points in the first 15 minutes, and Colorado State was on a 10-0 run.
Considering the last time we saw the Wolverines they were blowing a 17-point second-half lead against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, it felt like the game was all but over.
That’s when Michigan’s unlikely hero stepped up.
Collins made a layup to stop Colorado State’s run and converted the and-one free throw to cut the lead to 12. Moments later, he stole the ball from Rams star David Roddy and threw down a fast-break dunk.
Just like that, a 15-point deficit became 10 -- much more manageable. Collins scored once more before the break and helped Michigan go to the locker room down only seven points.
That made all the difference in the world.
Michigan was a completely different team in the final 20 minutes, outscoring Colorado State 46-27. Seven of those second-half points came from Collins, who also hit the team’s first three-pointer 23 minutes into the game.
It was a big one, answering a Kendle Moore triple that briefly extended the Colorado State lead to six points.
That shot took the lid off the basket for Michigan, as Caleb Houstan hit three triples in a four-minute span shortly afterward.
By the time the final buzzer blared, Michigan was walking off the court with a comfortable 12-point victory.
Collins finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He grabbed six defensive rebounds and dished out a pair of assists in by far the biggest game of his young career.
The NCAA Tournament has long been a stage for unknown players to blossom into legends, and that was certainly the case for Michigan’s generously listed 6-foot-1 freshman.
Collins had only played double digit minutes in one game since Jan. 29. His previous career high in points was eight; his most made field goals just three.
Collins is a 13% three-point shooter and a 45% free throw shooter, yet he made the team’s first triple and knocked down his only attempt from the stripe.
He averages 2.5 points per game on 39.7% shooting, but on the brightest stage, he dropped 14 in a game Michigan won by 12.
The Wolverines face a much tougher test Saturday, likely against No. 3 seed Tennessee. It’s possible Jones will be back, but if not, Collins will have an opportunity to build on this performance.
Juwan Howard envisioned Collins as the future quarterback of his offense, but that transition might be happening a bit earlier than expected.