Dion Harris started his first campaign playing like he was a seasoned veteran. He displayed a feel for the game that isn't present in most freshman. His ability to contribute in every facet on the court was one of the keys in helping the Wolverines get off to such a good start. However, by the midway point in the season his contribution began to dwindle. Marred by a long shooting slump, Harris' offensive output just wasn't what it had been earlier in the season. The reason could have been as simple as hitting the proverbial freshman wall. Whatever, the case may be, he was struggling. Realizing his teammate's situation, sophomore Lester Abram came forth with the ultimate display of selflessness. He approached Coach Amaker with the idea giving up his starting position to Harris in an attempt to give the first-year player a little confidence and spark his offensive game. Had Lester not done that, Dion Harris might not have been able to put forth the superb effort that he did today.
Steve Alford's team started the contest on fire with Greg Brunner nailing a three out of the gate as part of an early 11-4 run in which the Hawkeyes made five straight shots. Their blistering efficiency gave them a 14-4 lead heading into the media timeout four minutes into the game. An animated Bernard Robinson Jr. implored his teammates to get into the game and he transformed his words into action by immediately draining a jumper when play resumed. The two teams stoned each other defensively over the next few minutes, and neither scored a single point. Robinson Jr. ended the drought when he found Abram on a fast break for an and-1 opportunity (which he converted). The Pontiac native followed that up by sinking a jumper the next time down the court to cap off a 7-0 run, making the score 14-11 with a little under 11 minutes to go.
The maize and blue kept applying the pressure and outscored the Hawkeyes 6-3 over the next three minutes to tie the game for the first time at 17 (courtesy of two free throws from Robinson Jr.). Iowa re-took the lead on a jumper from Erek Hansen, but the Wolverines were smelling blood. After the they had already cut the lead to one, Robinson Jr. grabbed a defensive rebound and rocketed up court to trigger a fast break. He found Daniel Horton for a wide-open three, giving Amaker's bunch their first lead of the game at 21-19 with 6:33 remaining. Robinson's ability to rebound and push the ball up-court often caught the Hawkeyes in slow offense to defense transitions, which was certainly the case on aforementioned play. Michigan didn't let up down the stretch and outscored the Hawkeyes 11-6 to close the half. Dion Harris led the way during that stint, scoring 8 points (with 6 coming on two 3-pointers). As well as he performed in the half's closing moments, it was only a sample of things to come.
The Detroit native came out of the locker room "still feeling it" and knocked down a jumper to make the score 34-25. Two 3-point baskets and a free throw later and the 4th seeded Hawkeyes were wondering how they were going to stop Harris' offensive assault. To compound their dilemma, Lester Abram followed Harris' eruption with a 3-point explosion of his own. He knocked down two from behind the arc as part of 17-5 post-halftime run that made the score 49-30 with 15:13 left on the clock. The Hawkeyes fought back with two straight buckets, but the Harris once again stepped up to slam the door in their faces. He countered with two more 3-pointers within a 40 second span to push the Wolverines' lead above 20, at 55-34 with 12:06 to go. Though it seemed as if the Michigan would be able to coast to an easy victory, Hawkeye junior Pierre Pierce just wasn't ready to go home.
Pierce went on an absolute tear over the next ten minutes, scoring 16 points on an array of strong drives to the basket and clutch jumpers. His teammates chipped in with 13 points over the same time frame, and together they outscored Michigan 29-12 to reduce the lead to four points at 67-64 with 2:34 remaining. Earlier in the season the youthful Wolverines might have folded under the pressure, but that would not be the case on this night. Michigan was excellent from the line in the final minutes of the game, going 10/12 charity stripe. That combined with Iowa's inability to capitalize on a few wide open looks helped Michigan hold on to the 79-70 victory.
On the game Harris led the way with 23 points and 3 rebounds, while Abram chipped in with 19, going 9-9 from the free throw line. Pierce led the Hawkeyes with 28 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds respectively. For more on the game, including the boxscore, click the followig links. (Boxscore, Quotes)
After the game, Amaker was indicated that he was very pleased with his team's effort. "I think both teams recognized the significance and the importance of this game," he said. "I thought we played in that way. I thought both teams were very desperate in their approach and how hard they played. I thought we had to hold on for dear life. But we shot the ball extremely well in the second half, and on free throw shooting we were outstanding, which is something we have put a lot of emphasis on in our program. It has paid dividends for us, and certainly the outside shooting and play of Dion Harris was just tremendous. His accuracy from the three-point line in the second half kind of broke it open. Certainly we had to hold on and make free throws to win."
With the win, Michigan (18-10) advances to take on top seeded Illinois (23-5)
tomorrow at 1:40. The Illini disposed of Indiana in the day's opening game.