MINNEAPOLIS – In a game in which it looked like Minnesota couldn’t miss, it was important that the Michigan basketball team match the Golden Gophers punch for punch. But the Wolverines didn’t have enough in them as they fell 87-80 in a shootout Saturday.
Minnesota and Michigan came out hot in the early minutes of the game. The perimeter players for both teams were throwing up – and making – improbable long-range shots to start the game off at a scorching pace. The Golden Gophers took a 44-41 lead into halftime, after both teams scored just two points in the final three minutes of the half.
For Michigan – who has not won a game in which its opponent has scored more than 80 points – the fast-paced start was a bad omen, almost as bad as when Minnesota’s Steve Esselink banked in a 3-pointer from a few feet behind the top of the key.
“In the first half, we gave up too many open three’s and then we started to getting hands up, but they still hit them,” freshman point guard Daniel Horton said. “Once you let them get their rhythm, get a few open ones and knock them down, after that it doesn’t matter what you do because if they get a good look, then they are most likely going to knock it down.”
In the second half, Michigan denied the entry of the inbounds pass and forced Rickert into committing a five second violation, effectively creating a turnover before the half had even begun. But the good start did not pay off for the Wolverines.
Bernard Robinson, who played just seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, was forced to sit much of the second half after collecting four fouls. Despite playing just 19 minutes in the game, Robinson was involved in one of the most dramatic plays. Driving into the offensive end, Robinson spun at the foul line, and a Minnesota player was called for a blocking foul. The Williams Arena crowd went crazy and an object was thrown on the court. After reviewing the play, the officials ruled a double foul on Robinson and the defender.
After that, Robinson was forced to sit on the bench, though his body language and posture clearly indicated he wanted to be in the game to help his team.
Most of Michigan’s help came from the play of its freshmen class. The five freshmen played down the stretch and the outcome of the game rested squarely on their shoulders.
This did not just come from the freshman phenom Horton, but also from some unexpected sources. Sherrod Harrell, a preferred walk-on, hit one of Michigan’s biggest shots of the game. With a little more than a minute left in the game, Harrell squared up to the basket and launched a three from the corner. Harrell’s triple was his only basket of the game and cut the lead to 80-78.
Harrell, who has attempted just 12 shots all season, had the complete confidence of his team.
“I wasn’t surprised, Sherrod’s a very good shooter he selects his shot,” fellow freshman Chris Hunter said. “Sometimes he should shoot more often when he is open because he is a good shooter and he knocks it down in practice consistently.”
After Harrell’s 3-pointer, freshman Lester Abram, who had 18 points and was 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, had a look at the basket to tie the game with less than a minute, but his shot fell off the front iron.
“We hustled, we gave it our best shot, but unfortunately we fell short,” Harrell said.