Had Tim Hardaway Jr.'s dad shot the way his son did Friday, Madison Square Garden might never have witnessed one of its most famous and bizarre basketball moments. It was a miss by the elder Hardaway, then of the Heat, that got Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson scuffling for a rebound, touching off a brawl that wound up with Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clinging to Mourning's leg like a Chihuahua attacking a postman.
The younger Hardaway rarely missed at the Garden yesterday. The Michigan junior guard showed that he basically has spent his life preparing for a game like this one. He scored a game-high 23 points, including eight in a 16-6 run that started the second half and ended any drama in the NIT Season Tip-Off final against Kansas State. Michigan (5-0) won the title, 71-57, and Hardaway won the Most Outstanding Player trophy.
"Once he gets going, we've got to feed him," said fellow Michigan guard Trey Burke, a preseason All-American who joined Hardaway on the all-tournament team.
You could say that Hardaway was born for the occasion (he grew up watching big games by his dad, who scored 33 points in that contentious 1998 playoff game). But Michigan coach John Beilein did not see it that way.
"The biggest thing is his work ethic. That just doesn't happen," Beilein said. "He's got great DNA, but DNA doesn't get you there alone. You have to have great work ethic like his father did, and that is the big thing. That young man is in the gym all the time."
This time, the young man spent some anxious moments in the trainer's room. He was hit in the head in a battle for a rebound with 3:38 left and walked off slowly. He was able to return to the court for the awards ceremony but was unavailable for the postgame news conference because he was being seen by a doctor. "He's doing fine," trainer John DoRosario said. "He passed all the concussion tests."
He passed every other test this week, too, fulfilling a lifelong ambition of playing at the Garden. He had plenty of help from a deep roster on the No. 4 team in the nation, including freshman Glenn Robinson III (nine points, 12 rebounds), son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson.
But it was Hardaway's show. During the pivotal run, he even displayed his dad's patented crossover dribble.
As Burke said, "We continue to encourage Tim. When he plays like that, we can be very special. Because he's capable of playing like that every game."
Pittsburgh wins. Pittsburgh routed Delaware, 85-59, in the third-place game behind 18 points and 10 rebounds by Talib Zanna.