If there was a bright spot in Michigan's blowout loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Tuesday, it was their effectiveness in the 2nd half down low. Head Coach Tommy Amaker made the paint a point of emphasis late in that contest. Earlier in the season he mentioned his squad as one that took few long range shots and worked the ball from the inside out. That was the case late in Atlanta and that theme carried over into the early part of today's game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Graham Brown started things out converted a few buckets down low (including a baseline turnaround). The Wolverines then worked the ball outside for a few open jumpers (a long-range deuce by Courtney Sims and a three-pointer by Dion Harris). The visitors kept pace behind four points from Torin Francis to make the score 10-9 with eight minutes gone from the half. That's when two unlikely players keyed a run that would give the Wolverines their only double-digit lead of the day,
After a Brent Petway dunk got things rolling, former walk-on John Andrews delivered on two big lay-ups to keep the momentum building. Ronald Coleman picked up where Andrews left off, scoring seven points of his own, including a wide-open three from the left elbow. When the dust settled Michigan had gone on a 15-5 run that made the score 27-16 with 3:36 left before the intermission, but that cushion wouldn't last long. "I just came out with the mindset to take open shots and let the game come to me," Coleman said. "I didn't rush it and I took my time and played defense."
Coleman nailed another three in the waning moments of the half, but those would be the last points Michigan netted before they headed into the locker room. Mike Brey's club, on the other hand, scored 14 behind two threes from Chris Quinn and a couple of buckets from Rick Cornett. "We had an lead early and we surrendered that," Amaker said. "They came back right at the end of the first half and we were really deflated at halftime. We talked about it being 0-0 with 20 minutes to go at that point."
The two squads traded buckets in the first five minutes of the second half, but then the Irish would try to pull away. Leading 43-41 with 15:16 left on the clock, five points from Dennis Latimore sparked an 8-0 run that put the visitors up by 10 with 11:32 remaining. Sensing that the game was slipping away, Daniel Horton decided that it was time to take matters into his own hands.
Michigan's struggling floor leader stopped the Irish run at the 10:58 mark with only his fourth point of the game. In the subsequent three minutes he and his teammates clamped down on defense and cut the lead to four (53-49). The score would not change until Horton struck again two minutes later. He knifed through the Irish defense and threw up a runner in the lane to cut the lead to two.
Cornett held the home team off with a timely three-pointer, but Horton was right there to match it with a three of his own. A Latimore bucket pushed the lead back out to four, but Horton just wouldn't let his team falter. He connected on another huge three to cut the lead to one with 2:48 left on the clock.
Tommy Amaker's club could have easily panicked a few seconds later when Cornett answered the call for his team with another basket to push the lead back out to three, but the Wolverines maintained their resolve. On Michigan's next time down the court, a drive a dish to Coleman gave the freshman a clear path to the basket for the dunk. The Romulus native was hacked in the act and converted one of two at the stripe. After a Chris Quinn miss on the other end, the Wolverines had two opportunities to take the lead. A Horton miss followed by an Irish block of a Chris Hunter attempt down low gave the visitors a chance to ice the game with a half-minute left to play. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Horton had one more big play in him.
After his man turned the corner on him at the top of the key, Horton punched the ball loose from behind and it flew right into the arms of Ronald Coleman. The freshman then fired the ball out to Horton on the wing, allowing the Cedar Hills native to sprint the length of the court and convert the basket. He was fouled in the act and converted the and-1 to give the Maize and Blue a 61-60 lead with 20 seconds left on the clock.
Chris Thomas, who had been shut down on the afternoon, came down and put up a jumper that fell short. Brent Petway rebounded and was fouled, but missed the front end of the 1-and-1 to give the Irish one more opportunity to win the game.
On the final play, Thomas rushed down court a put up a shot from the right corner, but "-Georgia" came swooping in to reject the desperation attempt to preserve the one point victory.
Amaker credited Horton's performance with carrying his team through. "We've seen him do this before in the past," Amaker said. "He has a way of making big plays and he has a way of putting people on his back and carrying them with his will. I'm not surprised, I'm obviously very happy and pleased that we're on the winning side right now, but I'm not surprised because we've seen him do it before."
Next up for the Wolverines is a Tuesday night home game against High Point.