How would the Michigan Wolverines respond to playing in their first game in eight years as a ranked team? That was the question heading into Wednesday night's road battle with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Ed DeChellis' squad was clearly the underdog with a 10-8 record and at a major size disadvantage. That said, any road venue presents a test in the Big Ten, and Michigan's trip to Happy Valley would be further proof of that.
The Maize and Blue got out of the gates slowly, scoring only eight points in the first 10 minutes of the game and leaving them down by six halfway through the opening stanza. They finally got on track when their transition game began to present easier scoring opportunities. Their up-tempo attack resulted in a 9-2 run, which was capped off by a Ronald Coleman three-pointer on the break that gave them their first lead (19-18) since early in the game. The running game proved to be an effective weapon for Michigan all night, as the Wolverines ended up with a 23-5 advantage in points on the break.
Penn State's Jamelle Cornley muscled up a lay-up to regain the lead for home team, but it didn't last very long. Daniel Horton came right back with a three-pointer to put Michigan back on top. That's when Dion Harris started to heat up.
The former Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan entered the game shooting 39% from three, but his touch was far more accurate against the Nittany Lions. Harris nailed his final four shots of the half (including three three-pointers) to outscore Penn State 11-9 down the stretch to send the Wolverines into the locker room up 33-31. That, however, was only a sign of things to come. Harris was just warming up.
After the intermission, Michigan's 6-3 wing picked up right where he left off, draining another three pointer to increase the lead to five. Ronald Coleman then got into the act with his second triple of the game, followed by a dunk on the break. The quickening pace left the Nittany Lions confused in transition. That gave Harris yet another wide-open opportunity behind the arc, and he capitalized with his fifth bomb of the night. The offensive barrage put the Wolverines up 44-35 with 16:48 left forcing DeChellis to call timeout.
After the brief break the Wolverines toiled through a three-minute scoring drought, thus allowing Penn State to chop the deficit to three points (47-44) by the 12:18 mark. Tommy Amaker's bunch finally snapped out of their offensive liaise thanks to their long range marksmanship. Harris connected on two more three pointers and Horton one as part of a 15-5 run that ballooned the lead to 13 (62-49) with 6:45 left in the game. Still, the resilient Penn State squad would not die.
The Nittany Lions mounted one final comeback attempt. Mike Walker and Ben Luber each connected from long range on a 14-4 run that trimmed the deficit back to three with 1:34 remaining, but that's as close as they would get. On Michigan's ensuing possession Graham Brown set a screen for Daniel Horton as he floated to the right wing, and last week's Big Ten Player of the week and buried a clutch three pointer to push the lead to six. Michigan's senior floor leader then drained his 39th and 40th consecutive free throws in Big Ten play to ice the 71-65 victory. The win moves the Wolverines conference record to 6-2 and keeps them in a tie for first place with Iowa and Illinois.
On the game Michigan was led by Dion Harris with 23 points on 7/11 from three-point range, and Daniel Horton with 13 points and a career high 12 assists. Geary Claxton paced the Nittany Lions with 17. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes & Quotes.
"I congratulated them on their effort," Amaker said regarding his remarks to his team after the contest. "[In] that stretch there in the second half I thought we got that cushion that we needed and I thought we did it defensively. I mentioned to our team that we need to realize that every game in this conference is going to be an absolute bear. I was making that statement probably more so for the younger players -- the Jerret Smiths and Jevohn Sheperds -- those guys who haven't been through those things. But [winning is about] getting loose balls, all the little things that we have to do, especially when you're on the road. I was real proud of our guys because we knew this was going to be a tough game and I wasn't quite sure where we were mentally to be able to come in here and win this."
Next up for the Wolverines is another road game this Saturday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:10 pm EST.