The Michigan basketball team erased any doubts of an emotional letdown in the aftermath of the self-imposed sanctions leveled against it two weeks ago.
Friday night, Michigan downed the Nike Elite 81-77 in its final exhibition game. Led by an emotionally charged LaVell Blanchard, the Wolverines’ fervor was apparent from the first whistle.
“I love that about him, I loved how he brought that energy and that passion and I thought that was very contagious for our team and I really applaud him and credit him for getting us off to a good start, because his energy level was very high,” Amaker said.
Blanchard dominated in the first half, pouring in 17 points, many of which came on the fast break. The senior captain used his quickness to break upcourt for several uncontested layups.
“Well I’m not going to be bigger than anybody, so I better outrun them,” Blanchard joked. “Seeing that I’m not going to be the biggest four man in the Big Ten, my best asset is to outrun guys.”
Blanchard was assisted often by freshman Daniel Horton, who made his first start this season. Horton’s court vision allowed him to push the ball forward to the sprinting Blanchard. In the first half, Horton recorded four of his six assists, three of which went to Blanchard running the court.
“I feel more comfortable pushing the ball up the court,” Horton said.
In the second half, junior Bernard Robinson picked up where Blanchard left off.
The swingman dropped 18 of his team-high 23 points in the second, including 10 of 12 chances from the foul line.
Robinson made some of his biggest contributions with his ability to drive to the hole and create off the dribble.
“I just wanted to help my team out and step up a little bit,” Robinson said. “Everybody wanted to step up and create some shots for each other.”
With just over a minute left in the game and the Nike Elite down four points, Robinson drove to the basket and dropped in a reverse with the proverbial kiss of the glass.
Robinson iced the game hitting three of four foul shots down the stretch to put away the Nike Elite, and was the only Michigan player to score in the final two minutes of the game.
“Our two main guys played very well and played big for us, Blanchard and Robinson,” Amaker said. “When we get performances out of our two key guys like that, then we anticipate that we should have a great opportunity to play well and to win and I think we did that.”
Freshman Lester Abram continued his impressive preseason showing with 15 points; 13 in the second half alone.
Like Robinson, Abram was most successful when he was driving to the hole.
“For me, if my jump shot is off, then I’ll just start attacking the basket,” Abram said. “I had it in my mindset that what I was going to do was attack.”