MINNEAPOLIS — Following a pattern that has become
all-too-familiar, the Michigan basketball team put itself in
perfect position to pick up a rare Big Ten road win, only to fall
apart in the second half.

Julie Pannuto
Michigan senior Bernard Robinson displays his disappointment after an 81-78 loss to Minnesota last night. (AP PHOTO)

Despite leading by 11 at halftime, the Wolverines (4-5 Big Ten,
13-7 overall) suffered a huge blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes,
becoming the first conference victim of Minnesota (1-9 Big Ten,
9-13 overall), losing 81-78.

“It’s no question that (Minnesota is better than its
record),” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Being at
home, they’ve been very tough here — we knew this would
be an emotional evening for their club.”

Michigan was able to weather an early second-half surge by the
Golden Gophers. But after Michigan forward Bernard Robinson picked
up his fourth foul with 11:25 remaining in the game, the wheels
started to fall off the Wolverines’ wagon.

“That certainly hurt us,” Amaker said. “I
thought (Bernard) played a really good basketball game, but
certainly not having him on the floor didn’t help. You wonder
if that would’ve made the difference, but we would’ve
liked to have taken our chances with him.”

At that point, Michigan held a 57-50 lead, but the Gophers
turned up the defensive pressure and hit 3-pointers on their next
four possessions. The final one, from guard Adam Boone, put
Minnesota ahead, 62-61. After sophomore Daniel Horton knocked down
a hanging jump shot, the Gophers answered with two free throws by
Stan Gaines, and would never relinquish the lead again.

“When people are putting some pressure on the ball, they
speed you up a little bit,” said Amaker of his team’s
19 turnovers and shot selection problems. “We seem to be very
uncomfortable with that unless we’re at home, and
that’s perplexing to me.”

The Wolverines tried to stage a desperate rally late. They were
down 76-66 when Lester Abram sunk two free throws, and Courtney
Sims followed with a three-point play.

Two minutes later, a jumper by Horton and a free throw by Sims
pulled Michigan to within 78-76, but the Wolverines would get no
closer. Michigan had one last chance to knot the game back up after
Boone bricked two free throws with under eight seconds left, but
guard Dion Harris came up short on a desperation 3-pointer at the
buzzer.

“We were playing as hard as we could the whole
game,” Michigan forward Graham Brown said. “I
don’t really know what to say about it right now —
it’s just a big letdown for us.”

Brown and Sims were the reluctant targets of the Minnesota
offensive attack that started inside with center Jeff Hagen and
likely Big Ten Freshman of the Year Kris Humphries. Both players
grabbed 10 rebounds, while scoring 16 and 20 points,
respectively.

And just when the Wolverines clamped down in the blocks, the
Gophers began heating up from outside, led by guard Aaron
Robinson’s 20 points.

“Humphries is one of the best players in the Big
Ten,” Brown said. “He’s a great player and
he’s going to get some points. And Hagen had a great game. He
had a great game against us last year.”

The first half was a sloppy, back-and-forth segment, with the
two teams combining for 25 turnovers (13 by Michigan). Michigan,
though, was able to avoid the quick start Minnesota had
demonstrated in grabbing big early leads against Michigan State and
Illinois, as the Wolverines managed a 45-34 halftime cushion.

With just over five minutes left in the half, guard Dion Harris
hit a floater in the lane that pulled the Wolverines into a 26-26
tie.

That tough bucket set off a 14-0 run for Michigan, highlighted
by yet another impressive dunk by forward Brent Petway. After a
long rebound off a 3-point miss by Minnesota forward Michael Bauer,
the Wolverines hustled into transition. Robinson was unable to
connect on a driving layup, but Petway followed with a thunderous
two-handed putback.

Robinson also began to assert himself during the 14-point
Michigan run, scoring eight of the points in that stretch, and
capping the run with a swooping layup that also earned him a trip
to the line for the three-point play. He finished with 14 points
and six rebounds.

Horton and guard Lester Abram led Michigan with 15 points each.
Harris and Sims added 11 and 12 points, respectively.

Michigan will attempt to get back in the win column when it
travels to Iowa on Saturday afternoon.

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