CHAMPAIGN With Illinois cruising to a 20-point advantage late in the first half, the Fighting Illini”s infamous “Orange Krush” student section rose to its feet and the reverberation of the 16,500 rabid fans in Assembly Hall resonated through out the arena and visibly shook Michigan”s confidence.
Shooting barely 30 percent and desperately struggling on the defensive end, the Wolverines needed a “shot in the arm,” as coach Tommy Amaker likes to call it.
The Wolverines needed a fearless player who has a history of stepping in to apply instant offense in big-game situations, and bring Michigan within striking distance of a much better, yet beatable team.
Michigan also needed someone who could calmly run the show, creating opportunities for a floundering offense.
Amaker had those players in his arsenal, in sharpshooter Dommanic Ingerson and point guard Avery Queen. But he didn”t use them.
Ingerson saw a season-low three minutes and took zero shots. Queen, who averages nearly 27 minutes, played just six.
While their presence in the game may not have necessarily led to a Michigan victory, Amaker didn”t even give them a shot he didn”t let his best players lose.
Instead, Amaker played three former walk-ons, Mike Gotfredson, Rotolu Adebiyi and Herb Gibson. They averaged a combined 2.8 points per game in limited roles entering Saturday”s game. But the three gathered career-highs in minutes and were supposed to lead the comeback charge.
They ended up with a combined 16 points and seven fouls in 53 minutes in a 24-point Michigan loss.
Michigan also had a season-low nine assists, its lowest total since Jan. 30 of last year at Michigan State. Gotfredson, who ran the point for 30 minutes, had just one assist.
Queen had twice as many in only six minutes.
Sure, Ingerson and Queen have spent some time in Amaker”s doghouse for their behavior on and off the court. Radio reports after Saturday”s game even stated that a frustrated Ingerson had to be restrained by Adebiyi for allegedly “pouting” on the bench.
But the only reasoning that Amaker gave after the game for Ingerson and Queen”s absence was: “I think anytime as a coach, you want the players who will make you most competitive, and give you the best chance to win the game.”
Does this mean that three players who weren”t originally offered a scholarship to play for Michigan are better than a highly touted recruit in Ingerson and last season”s starter in Queen?
“No, I didn”t say that,” Amaker retorted after the game.
Amaker stood by his claim that he played the guys he felt would give Michigan the best chance to win in that particular game.
But the Wolverines needed someone to knock down some key shots and ignite a run to help them cut Illinois” lead down.
With Ingerson”s 3-point capabilities and past experience in creating instant offense in big games (see Duke and Boston College), he”d be the most likely one to help stretch the defense and open up opportunities for Chris Young and LaVell Blanchard inside.
Just three days prior, Ingerson”s 3-point shooting brought Michigan back in the game against Minnesota in a tough road environment.
On Saturday, as soon as Ingerson entered the game, Illinois coach Bill Self immediately sent his best defender, All-America point guard Frank Williams, at the freshman to shut him down knowing that Ingerson is one of Michigan”s top scoring threats.
Williams ripped the ball away from Ingerson on the first possession, but the one who really stole the ball out of Ingerson”s hands was Amaker who gave Ingerson a quick hook shortly thereafter and didn”t let his best pure shooter get into a rhythm.
As far as Queen, the sophomore was coming off two solid performances against Purdue and Minnesota. After the Minnesota game, Amaker even said: “My personal opinion is that no one has made bigger baskets for us than Avery Queen.”
Queen was nowhere to be found against Illinois.
Amaker said that those who played most of the game “displayed that kind of spirit, effort and drive and that”s why they played.”
There”s no question that Adebiyi, Gotfredson and Gibson bring a lot of heart and hustle to the Wolverines. And in the long term, that”s the example Amaker wants to have.
But Ingerson and Queen bring talent and a “chance to win.”
Isn”t that important too?
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.