EVANSTON — Most often when a usual starter begins a game
on the bench, it’s because of recent poor play or
disciplinary action. But when Lester Abram sat to start
Saturday’s game at Northwestern, that could not have been
further from the truth.

Ryan Nowak
Center Courtney Sims tips in a shot during the first half on Saturday. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)

Abram came to Michigan coach Tommy Amaker earlier this week with
a way to help freshman guard Dion Harris boost his confidence:
Benching himself.

“I’m still in awe of that,” Amaker said.
“Lester came to me and said it might be something that helps
Dion. It says a lot about how Lester is and how he feels about his
teammates and what he is doing to sacrifice for this
team.”

The plan worked, as Harris provided offense while the Wildcats
shut down the Wolverines’ post game. Harris played 18 of the
first 20 minutes, hitting two 3-pointers and scoring ten points.
Abram contributed to the victory off the bench as well, scoring 14
points in 24 minutes.

Despite the generosity of the action, Abram never talked to
Harris about what he did.

“(Dion) doesn’t need to say anything — just go
out there and play for us,” Abram said.

Making his mark: While Harris was taking advantage of his
extended time on the floor, seldom-used guard Sherrod Harrell
played a season-high 14 minutes. With Bernard Robinson playing
limited minutes due to foul trouble, Harrell stepped in and shined
on the defensive end. Even though he played six minutes more than
his previous season high, when he played eight minutes against
Oakland, Harrell had no idea that he was going to be such a factor
in the game.

“Coaches always tell you to be ready,” Harrell said.
“No matter what game or what time they call on you, be ready.
I guess I was ready today to do what I had to do to help our team
win.”

Trouble on the inside: In an effort to neutralize
Michigan’s athletic advantage, Northwestern used a steady
stream of zone defenses to take away the Wolverines’ inside
attack.

The strategy proved mostly successful. Michigan’s big men
combined for just 15 points in the game, and often prevented from
touching the ball in the low post.

“They played a matched-up zone for most of the
game,” Michigan forward Graham Brown said. “They
collapsed down low and weren’t giving us the opportunity to
post up.”

While Northwestern’s interior defense kept Brown, Courtney
Sims and Chris Hunter from making any post moves, the baskets that
the Wolverines’ big men scored were critical.

None of the plays proved bigger than Sims’ tip-in of a
miss by guard Lester Abram. This play gave Michigan a four-point
lead with about a minute to play in the game.

The Wildcats’ lack of a prototypical big man also gave
Michigan an advantage on the defensive end. Vedran Vukusic and
Davor Duvancic, Northwestern’s most effective front-liners
hoisted up a combined 12 shots from behind the 3-point arc, as the
Wildcats’ Princeton-style offense kept the duo off the
blocks. That left a vacancy inside, as Michigan was able to
outrebound Northwestern by a substantial 37-23 margin in the
contest.

Notes: With an 8-8 Big Ten record in basketball and a 4-4
Big Ten record in football, Northwestern finished at .500 or better
in both sports in the same season for the first time since 1959
… Michigan guard Daniel Horton hit two 3-pointers in the
victory, tying him for fifth place with Jalen Rose for most
3-pointers made in a Michigan career … The victory gave
Michigan a two-game sweep of Northwestern for the first time since
the 1999-2000.

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