After starting the season strong going 5-1 and moving to the top of the Big Ten standings, the Indiana Hoosiers had fallen on hard times. Before Wednesday’s game they had gone 1-7 over their last eight, were on a four game losing streak, and had lost their last four at home (the first time that has happened since the 84-85 season). As a team that has struggled on the road all year, Michigan could ill afford to overlook their opponents. Still, with the problems Indiana has had at home recently, this was a game the Wolverines should have had.
Things started out well offensively for the Maize and Blue, as its backcourt players were on the mark in the first half. Daniel Horton knocked down two straight 3-pointers on his first two shots to give the Wolverines an 8-6 lead two minutes into the game. Bracey Wright, who came into the game struggling mightily, answered with a three of his own to give the Hoosiers a lead that they would hold over the next few minutes. That’s when guard Lester Abram took control on offense with a number of authoritative drives to the hole that resulted in field goals or trips to the line. He scored 9 straight points for the Wolverines over a three-minute stint ending at 8:39, helping his team keep pace, down 23-19. For the rest of the half Michigan emphasized their low post presence and took advantage of the mismatch they had over 6-2 power forward A.J. Moye.
Courtney Sims scored two consecutive buckets down low to bring the Wolverines within one (24-23) before foul trouble sent him to the bench with 4:46 left in the half. Chris Hunter came in and picked up right where Sims left off, scoring the Wolverines next 5 points and tying the score at 28 before the two teams headed into the half all knotted up at 31.
Marshall Strickland, who had nailed seven points down the stretch in the first half, came out of the locker room firing and hit a three to give the Hoosiers and early second half lead. Daniel Horton then nailed two more three-pointers and teamed with Courtney Sims to give the Wolverines a 41-36 lead with 15:31 left in the game. Michigan looked poised to expand that margin until Strickland came back with two more three pointers to curb the momentum and cut the lead to one at 43-42. Amaker’s squad maintained the advantage for another few minutes until Bracey Wright tied the score at 47 with a huge three pointer over Bernard Robinson Jr. Strickland followed that up by giving the Hoosiers the lead again with another trifecta.
The Wolverines continued to battle and were finally able to tie the game at 56 at the 1:48 mark on Robinson Jr’s only field goal of the game. Strickland answered with yet another bucket, but on Michigan’s ensuing possession Robinson drove baseline and stepped out of bounds to turn the ball over. The Wolverine’s still had life as Donald Perry hit only one of his two free throws with 29 seconds left to make the score 59-56, but Horton missed on his subsequent three point attempt. The Maize and Blue still got one more reprieve when Bracey Wright missed his free throw attempts, but Robinson Jr. air-balled his 3-point attempt and the Hoosiers iced the game from the line, 61-56.
After the game Coach Amaker had some clear thoughts on what exactly went wrong. “We thought defending the three-point line was going to be critical, and they made eight three-pointers,” Amaker said. “I thought that was the difference in the game. We fouled them; we bailed them out if you will, in a lot of end-of-clock situations, and put Bracey Wright on the line when the shot clock was running down. I thought those were the critical aspects of the game. A.J. Moye played his normal tough game with 15 rebounds, and we weren't very tough. I wish I knew how else to describe it. I didn't think that we were very tough at the moments we needed to be. We were missing free throws when they were there for us, and we certainly didn't have a good performance out of Bernard (Robinson Jr.). I thought this was clearly one of the worst games he's played all year, and we're not going to win many games on the road without having Bernard Robinson show up.”
On the game Michigan was led by Sims and Abram with 13 points and 7 rebounds apiece and Daniel Horton with 12 points and 4 assists. After shooting 12/27 (44.4%) in the first half, the Wolverines managed a paltry 7/24 (29.2%) in the second. Strickland led the Hoosiers with 21 points and 4 assists. For the full boxscore, click here.
Michigan finishes up the regular season on the road Saturday versus the Northwestern
Wildcats. Any NCAA tournament aspirations rest on winning that game along with
making a strong run in next week’s Big Ten tournament.