Kobe Bufkin, No. 3 Michigan face stern test vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt

A spot in the NIT quarterfinals will be on the line Saturday afternoon when Kobe Bufkin, Dug McDaniel and No. 3 seed Michigan visit Tyrin Lawrence and No. 2 seed Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.

Bufkin tallied 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Wolverines (18-15) in their 90-80 first-round win over Toledo on Tuesday. It was Bufkin’s third showing of 23 points or more in his last five games, including a career-high 28 scored on Feb. 26 in an 87-79 overtime win over Wisconsin.

Joey Baker (21 points) was 5-for-7 from 3-point range, McDaniel went 4-for-6 and Bufkin added 3-for-6 shooting. McDaniel, a freshman, scored 16 points and added eight assists, one off his season high.

“My offense generates a lot of good things for our offense overall,” McDaniel told reporters. “I looked back at last game (two points, three assists in a Big Ten tournament loss to Rutgers) and tried to make a lot of changes for this game.”

The Wolverines played without guard Jett Howard, the son of coach Juwan Howard and a likely first-round NBA draft pick. His father said it was injury-related, not a lack of interest in the NIT.

“Jett has been part of the Howard DNA where he knows that he has a passion for the game of basketball,” Juwan Howard said. “Since he was younger, when he got injured, he always picked himself up and continued to keep competing. … He went and saw a foot and ankle specialist and, as of right now, we’re going to look at this thing day-to-day, let him heal and then we’ll see and go from there. He wanted to be out there for his teammates today. He was emotional, too. Very emotional that he didn’t play today.”

The Commodores (21-14) have a difference-making guard of their own in the form of Lawrence, who dropped a career-high 25 points, including 16 in the second half, in Vanderbilt’s 71-62 first-round victory over Yale.

Teammate Ezra Manjon, also a guard, added 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Like Michigan and most other top seeds in the NIT, Vanderbilt was motivated by a perceived snub from the NCAA Tournament.

“Obviously, we felt like we were a tournament team,” Manjon said, per The Tennessean. “And, like, this is our time to prove it.”

The programs are meeting for the first time since 2003. Michigan is 6-2 all-time against Vanderbilt but 2-2 at Memorial Gymnasium.

Both schools have won the NIT before — Michigan in 2004 and 1984, Vanderbilt in 1990.

–Field Level Media

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