Michigan led from start to finish in their Big Ten home opener against the Northwestern Wildcats Wednesday night to move their conference record to 2-0 (11-5 overall). This game saw the return of Graham Brown from hernia surgery, but Brent Petway (shoulder) and Chris Hunter (ankle) remained absent from the line-up.
The Maize and Blue started out hot from the outside with Ronald Coleman, Daniel Horton, and Dion Harris connecting on successive three pointers to help the Wolverines get out to a 10-3 lead. The Wildcats battled back though, outscoring Michigan 13-6 over the next five minutes to knot things up at 16 at the half way through the opening stanza.
Northwestern continued to threaten the lead until a lay-up and free throw from Courtney Sims, followed by back to back three-pointers from Dion Harris gave the home team a little breathing room. The two sophomores combined for 11 points to close the half and send Tommy Amaker’s club into the locker room up 31-26.
Michigan opened up the second half with a 7-2 run, five of which came from Horton, to expand its lead to double digits, 38-28. Just as was the case in the first half, however, the Wildcats were able to mount a response.
The visitors went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to one, swinging the momentum in their direction. The tide was finally stemmed when the post duo of Courtney Sims and J.C. Mathis (who started in place of Petway/Hunter) combined for seven points over the next four minutes to push the lead back out to eight (48-40) with 12:18 to go. The Wolverines looked poised to deliver the knockout blow at that point, but the Bill Carmody’s club had one more run in it.
Vedran Vukusic brought his team back with seven straight points, including a three-pointer, to cut the lead to three (61-58) at the 5:33 mark…but they would get no closer. Dion Harris came up with two huge jumpers to push the lead back out to seven with just over two minutes left in the game. Daniel Horton followed that up by icing the game from the charity stripe. He went 6/6 from the free throw line down the stretch to preserve the 71-61 victory.
Horton led all scorers with 24 points and reached the 1000 point mark in his career. After the game Coach Amaker gave his floor leader credit for stepping up to help the team despite being fatigued. “I probably played him too many minutes because he got really tired in the late game situation, but he went to the line and made both of his free throws and went seven for eight overall,” Amaker said. “When he plays at a high level we are a pretty good basketball team."
The Wolverines will look to push their win streak to six when they square of with the Penn State Nittany Lions Saturday at 12:17.