Tommy Amaker's late season decision to shake up his starting lineup reaped positive dividends for the second time in the course of week when his team took the floor Saturday in Minneapolis. The new starters, Jerret Smith and Ekpe Udoh, got things started for the Wolverines by scoring the first two baskets to grab an early 4-0 lead. The Golden Gophers didn't get on the board until the 17:58 mark when reserve Jamal Abushamala nailed a three-pointer, but that marked the beginning of an impressive one. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that was only the beginning of a one-man onslaught by the Gopher reserve.
Abushamala found openings on the perimeter the next two times down the floor and took advantage by converting two more triples to cap off a 9-0 run. Smith finally ended the scoring drought with a jumper, but Abushamala wasn't done. The former walk-on hit Minnesota's next four points to help retain a 13-12 advantage. Minnesota didn't get a basket from another source until Dan Coleman hit a lay-up at the 10:52.
Coleman seemed take over as the Gophers scoring threat, hitting eight consecutive points of his own before Abushamala chimed in with his fourth three-pointer of the half to give Minnesota a 28-25 lead with 2:48 to go.
On the other side, Dion Harris took his turn providing the Maize & Blue's offense by raining in eight straight points down the stretch, (including two three-pointers) to send the Wolverines into the break with a 33-30 lead.
Abushamala finished with 18 first half points and Coleman with 10 to account for all but two of the Minnesota's first half points. Unfortunately for the Gophers, the duo would not be able to carry them in the second half.
The Wolverines went to work on the interior coming out of the break coming of the locker room, with Udoh notching six early points and Courtney Sims adding two to take a 41-36 lead at the 16:55 mark.. Abushamala cashed in on another three opportunity to draw his team within two, but Michigan came right back with an answer.
Dion Harris responded with a three pointer of his own to push the lead back to five, then the Wolverines would go on what turned out to be the definitive run on the game. Jerret Smith converted an emphatic drive for an and-one lay-up to ignite a 16-4 spurt (in which seven different players scored) to take a 60-45 lead. That put the game out of reach and Michigan went on to win the contest 62-51.
On the game the Wolverines were led by Dion Harris with 15 points, while Lester Abram and Ekpe Udoh chipped in with 14 apiece. The Golden Gophers were led by Abushamala with 27.
After the contest Michigan's headman praised his team's defensive effort against Minnesota's leading scorer Lawrence McKenzie, who finished with zero points on 0/10 shooting. He also commended the play of Jerret Smith.
“Obviously we’re very pleased to get our second road conference win," Amaker said. "We talked about being ready, sustaining great effort and putting ourselves in a position to finish it. That’s what we focused on coming into today’s game. We knew it was going to be difficult. We certainly knew from our match-up with the Gophers the first time around that they could score against us, so we were concerned. Our defense was tremendous to start the game today. The defense by Dion (Harris), Lester, Jerret (Smith), Jevohn (Shepherd), Reed (Baker), all the kids on the perimeter that had to switch off on (Lawrence) McKenzie. You cannot say enough about their effort. He (McKenzie) is a dynamite offensive player He had one of those games, and one of those afternoons like Dion had in Champaign. It is very tough for their team to do very well without him scoring and the same can be said for us."
"I give a lot of credit to Jerret Smith," Amaker continued. "He probably had his best game of the season at the point guard spot. It was a great overall performance and it started with our defense.”
Michigan will look to keep its tournament hopes alive when they return home Tuesday night for a grudge match with the Michigan State Spartans. Tip-off is scheduled for 7PM EST.