The maturation of this Michigan basketball team was very apparent this summer. In the absence of Daniel Horton for much of the summer (whom was gone with USA basketball) the other players on the team learned to become more comfortable with playing bigger rolls on the floor. While it certainly was exciting to see them develop that trait, the question of whether or not they would still depend on Horton to carry them offensively still remained. Friday night versus the Oakland Grizzlies, that experience proved very valuable. On a night when Daniel Horton wasn’t on top of his game, a number of his teammates stepped to the forefront to propel Michigan to an 84-58 blowout!
Early in the game, Michigan’s low post players made their presence felt in the paint on both ends of the court. Courtney Sims started out very strong, crashing the boards on the offensive end for Michigan’s first points (as well as the first points of his career) and rejecting an Oakland shot on the other end (his first of 6!). While both Sims and Chris Hunter did outstanding jobs of altering shots down low, their high post passing skills proved to be just as impressive. They were key in triggering many of the Wolverines early points. On Michigan’s two subsequent possessions, Sims hit Hunter with a nice entry pass down low for a dunk and Hunter hit Robinson with a perfect bounce pass on his basket cut for the easy “and-1”. Oakland kept pace with the Wolverines and were only down 1 point (7-6) when Dion Harris entered the game for Daniel Horton (who was in foul trouble) at 15:24.
Dion came off the bench and immediately sparked the offense, nailing a three to put Michigan up 10-6. That was the first of many big plays for last year’s Mr. Basketball…, all of which had his coach claiming that his young star is playing beyond his years. “Certainly Dion Harris’ play was as solid as you could ask of any player, regardless of this being his first performance or his being a freshman,” Amaker said. “Dion doesn’t play like a freshman.” The Grizzlies tied the game again a short time later, after which the Wolverines went on their first big run of the night. In a contest that can ultimately be described as a series of runs, Michigan scored 11 straight points over three minutes to get out to a 21-10 lead. Oakland came back with 7 straight points of their own to cut the margin to 4 with 9:43 to go in the first half. Senior Bernard Robinson Jr. stopped Michigan’s scoring drought when he went up the left baseline and converted on an acrobatic double clutch shot followed by an easy deuce off of a nice bounce pass (from Dion) to make it 25-17. The Grizzlies, however, just would not go away. They tied the score twice more... at 27 with 6:32 remaining and then at 31 with 4:15 remaining. That’s when Mr. Reliable, Lester Abram, took over and led Michigan on their most important run of the night.
Dion Harris, who once again played outstanding game from the point guard position (9 points and 5 assists in the first half) flew up court on the break, evaded defenders with a right-to-left behind the back dribble at mid-court, and then found Lester wide open for a 3-pointer to give the Maize and Blue 34-31 lead. Lester would be responsible for the Wolverines next 4 points …and 6 of their next 11 to key a 14-3 run. Coach Amaker has begun to expect such performances from his unassuming star. “You can count on him,” Amaker said. “That’s the way he has been. We’re very fortunate to have him because he’s very consistent, very reliable, and quietly does his job a workman-like manner.” Abram matched Robinson Jr’s first half offensive output at 13, and helped send Michigan into halftime with a 45-34 lead
Lester came out of the lockerroom and scored the first two points of an 8-0 run, which was capped off by two huge dunks from Chris Hunter. After that outburst, and despite their best efforts, the Grizzlies wouldn’t get any closer than 16 points. The defensive intensity was present in the first half, but it was even greater in the second stanza. The combination of Robinson Jr., Abram, and Harris frustrated Oakland scoring machine Mike Helms, holding him to 15 points on only 6/17 shooting. Coach Amaker indicated that his team really focused on hindering Helms’ scoring chances. “We talked about trying to make him a 2-point scorer, not letting him get open threes, and even fouling him to put him on free throw line,” Amaker said. “We were hoping to make it very difficult for him off the dribble for two-point shots. I also thought our guys were really unselfish to put their bodies on the line to take charges.” Helms eventually fouled out on an offensive charge with a little over 9 minutes remaining. The Wolverines were up 70-51 at that point and expanded their lead to 28 points late in the game before winning 26. Coach Amaker was very encouraged by his team’s performance. “I thought our kids really responded. I thought our energy and maybe even our depth wore them down. We didn’t have a great performance out of Horton, so for us to be able to have this kind of game without him playing up to his best says a lot about the potential of our team right now.”
On the evening Michigan was led by Bernard Robinson Jr. (who had another outstanding floor game), with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals… Lester Abram with 19 points and 3 rebounds… and 15 points and 6 assists from Dion Harris. For the entire boxscore, please click here.
Dion Harris continues to prove that he can handle significant minutes at he point guard slot with another strong assist game (6).
It was a strong recruiting evening as most of the top Detroit area programs
and coaches were in the house.
-Durand “Speedy” Walker of The Family.
-Coach Nate Oats, Ronald Coleman, Jerret Smith, and the rest of the Romulus squad
-Cass Tech Coach Robert Shannon and Chris Douglas Roberts
-Coach Derrick McDowell, Jamal Locke, Brandon Wolfe and the rest of the Detroit Redford squad
-Detroit King’s Ramar Smith (along with a host of teammates)
-Pershing Basketball Team - (Jabari Currie and Deshawn Simms were reportedly in the house, though I did not spot them personally.