Tommy Amaker opened the game against the Hoosiers with a revamped starting lineup, and it paid off for the Maize & Blue. Out of the first team unit were Sr. Courtney Sims and Jr. Ronald Coleman. Stepping in for the two veteran players were Soph. Jerret Smith and Fr. Ekpe Udoh.
Smith's presence seemed particularly helpful to Dion Harris. It really took the pressure of ball handling and orchestrating off of his shoulders and allowed him to focus more on scoring and defending Roderick Wilmont. Udoh's presence gave Michigan more athleticism on the front line…something which really aided them in their quest to slow down Hoosier big man D.J. White.
"Part of it was about matchups," Amaker said. "We had to find a way to defend the perimeter, but we also had to show the team what kind of effort we expected," he said. "We knew the kids would give us that effort."
The Wolverines came out with energy and jumped out to an 11-2 lead behind two Dion Harris three pointers before Indiana came back with a 7-0 run to get back into the game 11-9. With Kelvin Sampson's club fighting back, the Wolverines had to rely on their defense to get things back under control. Leading the way on the defensive end was the combination of Ekpe Udoh and Brent Petway down low. The duo combined to limit D.J. White only three first half points. Udoh’s quickness seemed to bother White down on the block and was key in slowing down Indiana’s best player.
The Wolverines also did an excellent job defending the perimeter, limiting Indiana to just 3/12 from beyond the arc. Tommy Amaker had been preaching a "defense first" mantra to his club all season long and was extremely pleased with the effort his players put forth. “I thought our defensive energy and pressure was absolutely outstanding;" he said. "It set the tone for us."
Michigan was finally able to get back on track offensively and went on a 9-4 run to close out the first half. The Wolverines went into the locker room with a 25-18 lead.
The Wolverine pushed that lead to 10 on a Dion Harris three early in the second half, but that is as big as the margin would get. Errek Suhr, who was playing for the injured Earl Calloway, helped cut into the lead with a solid second half of play. He scored five points inside of one minute to pull the visitors within five.
Courtney Sims came off the bench to score a few key baskets to keep Indiana at bay, but the Hoosiers continued to peck away and eventually took a 47-46 lead on two free throws by Mike White with 5:-1 remaining.
Michigan battled back to tie the score at 51, before taking control down the stretch. Jerret Smith was huge in the waning moments, scoring four of the Wolverines final seven points. He hit a big floater in the lane to give the Maize and Blue a 54-51 lead with 1:26 left. On the next offensive possession he committed a turnover that cast a little more doubt on the outcome, but he managed to make up for the mistake by calmly sinking two free throws to seal the game.
Smith finished with a career high 12 points to go along with six assists while Sims added 13 off the bench. Dion Harris led the way for the Maize & Blue with 16 points.
The Wolverines will attempt to further their positive momentum when they take on Illinois in Champagne Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CST.