With four straight conference losses heading into Saturday night's home match-up with Minnesota, the Michigan Wolverines were sorely in need of a victory. In a conference where protecting the home floor is the name of the game, last week's home defeat at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes magnified the significance of the match-up with the Gophers even more However, early in the contest it seemed as if the Maize & Blue wouldn't be up to the challenge.
After scoring a quick 2-0 lead on a Lester Abram lay-up, Michigan was outscored 7-0 over the next three minutes. The Wolverines battled back minutes later thanks in large part to six straight points from Dion Harris. That helped them regain the advantage, 14-13, but the lead was short lived. After the two teams battled to a 16-16 tie, the Golden Gophers used a balanced offensive attack consisting of penetration that led to open looks from the perimeter and low post scoring from Spencer Tollackson to go on a 16-7 run. That put the visitors up 32-23 with 4:01 left in the half. Michigan attempted to battle back down the stretch and managed to get within six. Then a Lawrence McKenzie triple right before the buzzer sent Minnesota into the locker room maintaining the nine point advantage 42-33.
Dion Harris' 14 first half points were all that stood between the Wolverines remaining striking distance and being blown out. The team's floor leader came out of the break and he picked up right where he left off by nailing a three-pointer to start the second half scoring. Minnesota grew the lead back to nine over the next few minutes, but then Michigan began to whittle away at the lead again thanks to the spirited play of Brent Petway.
Harris started a Michigan run with a successful drive to the hole, but it was Petway that sustained it with two rim-rattling dunks that electrified both the crowd and his team. The first came off of a beautiful alley-oop setup from Jerret Smith to cut the lead to three. Minnesota quickly answered with a Tollackson jumper. That's when Petway brought the crowd to its feet again. A shot fake from the left baseline got his defender up in the air before he exploded to the basket to again trim the lead to three, 51-48 at the 14:23 mark. He added an 18-foot jumper shortly thereafter and Lester Abram chimed in with a free-throw to cap off a 15-6 run to tie the score at 53.
The Golden Gophers re-took the lead immediately on a Limar Wilson bucket, but the Wolverines refused to go away. A driving Abram found Ronald Coleman free at the top of the circle from a three-pointer that crept in after bouncing off the front of the rim. Two Minnesota free throws put the visitors back up by one, then Coleman came free off a screen for an elbow-three on the ensuing possession that put Michigan up 59-57 at the 10:24 go. The home team would never trail again.
The Wolverines grabbed their biggest lead of the game with just under a minute remaining when two Jerret Smith free throws put them up 77-70. The Gophers made things interesting by canning a two more three-pointers and few quick lay-ups to get within two, but Michigan was able to go 5/8 from the charity stripe down the stretch (including two Lester Abram misses with one second left) to preserve the 82-80 victory.
After the contest Amaker credited the career-best performances from Petway and Abram with keying his team's win.
"There's no doubt that Petway was the catalyst for us," Amaker said. "I thought his energy, his playing on both ends of the floor, blocking shots, rebounding the ball, being savvy, getting offensive boards and kicking it out, giving us another possession to use clock, and certainly making a few of those high-flying dunks that he usually does for us. He got some baskets around the goal where he finished and got fouled and he did a tremendous job from the foul line - 4-of-5 - which is outstanding. That was a big key; the plus for him was to finish things at the foul line."
"(Harris') offensive production carried us," Amaker continued. "You look at (the fact that) we didn't play very well defensively. We couldn't guard them. They had five guys in double digits and shot a high percentage. We wouldn't even be able to think about winning this basketball game if that young man didn't have a tremendous basketball game and he did some really good things for us. He was savvy out there, got to the foul line, utilized his size to shoot over the top of that smaller player he had guarding against him. I was real pleased in seeing how two of our seniors really carried us."
On the game Harris led the way for the Wolverines with a career high 27 points, while Petway also chipped in with a career high 18 points and seven rebounds. Lawrence McKenzie and Dan Coleman led five Golden Gophers in double figures with 18 points apiece
The Wolverines will next hit the hardwood Tuesday night when they travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 PM EST.