For the second time in as many games, the Wolverines weren’t the only team minus a key player. Lester Abram was absent from the line up once again, but, the Oklahoma Sooners played the game with what may have been an even greater handicap. With two starting frontline players missing from the line-up in 6-8, 265-lbs., preseason Wooden Award candidate Kevin Bookout (injury) and 6-10, 220-lb. Jabarhi Brown (suspension), the Sooners were forced to rely on their outside game. For much of the season the Wolverines were guilty of playing inconsistent perimeter defense. Unfortunately for the visitors, that wasn’t the case in this match-up..
Freshman point guard Drew Lavender went into the game as the Sooners leading scorer, averaging 11.6 points per contest. However, Michigan’s guards, led by Daniel Horton, held Kelvin Sampson’s floor leader scoreless in the first half and to 2 points for the entire game. "One of the keys for us was to contain that young man,” said Coach Tommy Amaker speaking of Lavender. “He is quick and he is tough and we did not give him lanes to the basket. I thought our length at times distracted him" Lavender’s high school teammate, Brandon Foust, has been somewhat of a late season surprise playing out of position in the frontcourt. He scored the bucket that regained the lead for Sooners at the 18:37 mark to make the score 4-3. They maintained the lead until Bernard Robinson Jr. altered that scenario five minutes later.
Daniel Horton guards Drew Lavender
For the second time in the game, Robinson Jr. gave the Wolverines the lead on a beautiful offensive play. The first came on a 3-pointer in Michigan’s opening possession. This time he added another 3-points on a beautiful flying finger roll to the rack, followed by an and-1 free-throw that made the score 13-10 with 12:19 remaining. The play got the 11,000 maize and blue faithful on their feet and the rest of the team energized.
Bernard Robinson Jr.
Despite the raucous crowd, the Sooners came back to tie the score at 15. Brent Petway, after entering the game to chants of “Air Georgia”, responded by flying to the hole for a lay-up of his own to push Michigan back out front. When the Sooners cut the lead back to 1 a few minutes later, “Air Georgia” answered once again with yet another high flying bucket to put the Wolverines up 21-18 with 7:44 left in the half. Michigan expanded the lead to 10 with a little over a minute remaining, but a 3-pointer by Jason Detrick and a slam by Foust in the waning moments cut the lead to 5 at intermission, as Amaker’s bunch went into the half up 30-25.
Courtney Sims got the Wolverines started coming out of the locker room with a lay-up off an alley-oop to push the lead to 7. The Sooners then answered with their only real run of the game. Detrick nailed another 3-pointer and Foust added two tip-ins as part of a 9-0 run that gave the Sooners a 34-32 lead four minutes into the stanza. Dion Harris indicated that the Wolverines contributed greatly to the Sooner run. “I think they were just outplaying us,” Harris said. “They were playing harder than us when they went on that run. Obviously we made some turnovers. We weren't taking care of the ball as much and we took some bad shots. It was important for us to come out in the second half and be sharper on offense and defense." Daniel Horton wasn’t surprised that Oklahoma didn’t go away easily. “We knew they were going to make a run at it,” Horton said. “They are a good basketball team, they are not going to go down without a fight. They made a couple big shots and made their free throws. They kept themselves in the game, but we kept our composure." Harris finally stopped the bleeding and regained the advantage (35-34) with a three-pointer off of a beautiful shot fake. The Sooners then swung the seesaw right back their way with two free-throws, but that lead was short-lived. Harris and Horton would team up to put the Sooners away once and for all.
After the Michigan tied the score at 36 on a Courtney Sims free throw, Harris converted a lay-up that put Michigan out front for good. The Sooners continued to threaten, but Sampson came unglued on the sideline when Brandon Foust was called for a charge going to the hole at the 9:42 mark. Down only 2 at that point, the former Michigan State assistant vehemently complained to the ref about not getting the same call on the other end. His fiery complaint earned him a technical. Harris converted the two free throws as he and Horton (who nailed a clutch 3-pointer to make the score 47-40 with 8:09 to go) combined for 15 of the Wolverines final 27 points down the stretch to earn a 63-52 victory. From the time of the technical foul the two shot a combined 8/8 from the free throw line, while the team shot 14/14.
Dion Harris knifes in for the reverse!
After the contest Coach Amaker spoke of the advantage of getting these extra games in the post-season. "I told the team that not many teams are still playing in college basketball and we are very fortunate to still be in that group,” Amaker said. “It was an outstanding atmosphere for our team. I have to give Oklahoma a lot of credit. They lost one of their top players and battled hard right to the end. They are a very scrappy and tough team, but we were able to hit free throws and that was one of the keys for us. It was a very good team effort. I am very pleased for our team to get our 20th win in our college season this year. In terms of getting postseason victories, I think it is going to do worlds of wonders for the confidence of our kids. Having been there myself and being part of that as a player you can't even image the amount of confidence this team is going to feel months and years to come."
On the game the Wolverines had 3 players in double figures with Harris netting 17, Horton 12, and Chris Hunter 10. Brandon Foust keyed the Sooners effort with 14 points and 8 rebounds respectively. For more on the game, including the full boxscore, click the following links. (Boxscore, Notes, Quotes).
Michigan’s next NIT contest will be versus Hawaii at 9pm Wednesday night at Crisler Arena. After squandering a 17 point halftime lead, the Rainbows held on Monday night for an 84-83 win versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Wednesday night’s game will be televised on ESPN2. For ticket information,