On Dec. 28 against Army, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker made a major lineup change to send a message to his starters.
On Saturday, Amaker wasn’t disciplining anyone but just looking to mix things up.
The sixth-year coach benched usual starters Ron Coleman and Courtney Sims in favor of sophomore Jerret Smith and freshman Ekpe Udoh.
Udoh’s state line wasn’t impressive (two points, three rebounds and an assist), but his long arms harassed shooters down low all afternoon long and were instrumental in limiting Hoosier forward D.J. White to just seven points.
Smith had a more productive evening, finishing the night third on team in points (12) and first in assists (six). He was also the team’s most efficient shooter, hitting four of his five shots from the field, including two of three from beyond the arc.
But his biggest contribution came down the stretch.
Hanging on to a three-point lead, Smith attempted a pass to teammate Dion Harris, which was picked off by Hoosier guard Errek Suhr. Indiana took advantage and scored to pull within one.
Rather than getting down, the Romulus native turned back around and iced the game for his teammates.
After the bucket, Smith was fouled on the inbounds pass and went to the line to shoot two. Smith calmly hit both shots, forcing the Hoosiers into trying a more difficult 3-pointer just to tie the game.
“You just have to step up with confidence,” Smith said. “I just shot the free throws with confidence.”
Winning in “style”: Coaches tend to believe that numbers don’t mean anything and “that’s why you play the game,” but no sideline general was more thankful for that than Amaker.
The Wolverines hardly looked polished, shooting just 38 percent from the floor in the first half en route to a 43 percent shooting performance for the game.
It’s the lowest shooting percentage Michigan has had in any of its conference wins this season.
The Wolverines also continued to have trouble holding onto the ball. At the half, Michigan had as many turnovers (eight) as baskets made. For the game, the Wolverines committed 14 turnovers to 14 assists.
But Sims was encouraged by the team’s ability to win with less-than-ideal offensive numbers.
“It just shows us how good of a defensive team we are when we want to be,” Sims said.
Full capacity: For just the second time this season, Crisler Arena was sold out on Saturday.
While some portions of the crowd were noticeably empty, the atmosphere was the loudest all season.
Athletic Director Bill Martin loved the crowd. He said it took him back to the mid-’90s days when the program was more successful.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” said Martin of the atmosphere. “The students are so good and (so is) the Maze Rage. We’re so thankful that they’re so loyal to us. We need to see more of this.”
Martin confirmed that the last two home games of the year are close to sellouts and he was confident that by game day all the tickets will be sold.