When the Michigan basketball team hit the hardwood against the Delaware State Hornets Wednesday night, it marked a special occasion for the senior members of the team. Three years ago the current elder statesmen were freshmen on a squad that stumbled out of the blocks to a 0-6 start. Staring them in the face in game six of the 2005/2006 season was the symbolic achievement of flipping that record around.
The gameplan for Michigan headman Tommy Amaker was simple: exploit the decided size advantage in the post. The main weapon in his arsenal would be Courtney Sims, and the junior center came through in a big way. "Coach told Courtney in one of the timeouts toward the end of the first half, 'If you play tough and you play hard, you're going to get 40," Daniel Horton said. "He got close to it. He played great. I've never seen a big man for OUR team dominate like that. It's a great feeling for me to see him play like that because I want the best and I want him to be great."
Sims went to work right away, scoring 11 early points to help Michigan get out to a 16-5 lead halfway through the period. The home team looked prepared to blow the contest wide open when the sloppy play that has plagued the first halves of their prior games reared its ugly head again. Careless turnovers helped open the door for the Hornets, and they flew right through.
After failing to connect on a single three-point attempt in the first nine minutes play, Coach Greg Jackson's squad nailed four triples over the next six minutes to get back into the game. Hornet guard Jahsha Bluntt ignited an 18-7 run with eight straight points (including two threes) to cut the lead to three (23-20) with three minutes remaining in the half. Sims battled back with four quick points to increase his 1st half total to 17, but the visitors just would not go away. They threatened to send the Wolverines into the locker room nursing a five point lead, but a big shot by Dion Harris gave the home team some momentum. The Detroit native received the inbounds pass out near the half-court line, and then proceeded to heave a 45-footer that found nothing but the bottom of the net. The improbable bucket put the Maize and Blue up 32-24 at the intermission.
"I turned away and I couldn't believe it went in," Amaker said laughing. "I was watching it and I just assumed it was going to miss. I was walking to the locker room and I saw that it went through the net. We needed that, to be very honest, to give us a little lift. Maybe it took a little wind out of their sails going into the half. It gave us the opportunity to have something to get our crowd excited about and lift our kids' spirits as they were going to the locker room. It was a lucky shot … lets be honest. (laughing)."
When the Wolverines emerged from the break, Sims' dominance continued. He powered in seven more points early in the second half to increase the home team's lead to 14, (42-28) at the 13:54 mark. Michigan was once again on the verge of delivering a knockout blow, but Bluntt refused to let his team die. The 6-6 guard scored seven points on an 11-3 run to cut the lead back to six (45-39) with 11:06 to go. But that's as close as they would get.
Amaker had his club switch to a 2-3 zone on the defensive end, and Delaware State's attack grinded to a halt. Offensively, Harris connected on two more triples and Sims added seven more points as part of a 17-4 run that put the home team up 63-41 with 4:45 remaining. The Wolverines then maintained that margin down the stretch to earn the 69-49 victory.
After the game, Amaker praised his team for not overlooking their overmatched opponent. "Certainly [the players looking past Delaware State] was something that was on our minds as a staff, but I've given our kids credit for getting themselves ready," he said. "I just thought they had the energy to make this a winning effort for us tonight. We didn’t play brilliantly by any stretch of the imagination. At times we played poorly, to be very honest. But I give them credit for coming here with the right mindset to respect our opponents, respect the game, and being ready to play."
On the game the Wolverines held Delaware State to 26.9% shooting from the field and out-rebounded them 43-18. Jahsha Bluntt led the visitors with 24 points while Courtney Sims led all scorers with a career high 33 points and 13 rebounds. "I had the weight advantage and the height advantage," Sims said. "I have to give a lot of credit to my guards. They just kept getting me the ball in good places, and Graham was rebounding. It was really about my guards. I just played hard and the guards just kept giving me the ball. I just got into good position and got some easy buckets."
Next up for the Maize and Blue is a trip to the Sunshine State where they will take on the South Florida Bulls Saturday at 3:00 PM.
Daniel Horton on Michigan's 19 assists:
"We knew coming in that this was going to be a game where they were going to run a lot of different defenses that we don't normally see. We just wanted to be unselfish and keep moving the ball. We felt like they can chase us on the dribble but they can't chase the pass. We just wanted to keep the ball moving and try to get good shots."
Tommy Amaker on the blow that Lester Abram took to the mouth late in the first half:
"He got in the face with an inadvertent elbow. He had to get some butterfly stitches there. He wasn't ready to start the second half, so we went with Jerret Smith."
Amaker on going from 0-6 to 6-0:
"We are very proud of that and I think they feel very good about it. We talked about this as a significant moment for our program -- to have an opportunity to have six victories in six games. After some of the things that these kids have been through, like being 0-6 at one point, they should feel very good. Now we are going to see if we can win on the road another time. This is going to be our third road game coming up with this group and it would be unprecedented for our team to have that this early in the season."
Horton on going from 0-6 to 6-0:
"I think we've worked really hard to bring this program back up to certain level," said senior point guard Daniel Horton. "We feel like we're not quite there yet, but we feel like we're on the right path. To go from being 0-6 as freshmen to being 6-0 seniors … that's a great feeling because it shows that we have made progress."