MINNEAPOLIS -This past week, the Michigan basketball team experienced just how tough it is to win on the road. The Wolverines fell 87-80 at Minnesota in a game in which they never held the lead. The Golden Gophers handed Michigan its second consecutive loss on the road, after falling to Illinois 67-60 Wednesday.
Michigan had won its first two conference road games against Ohio State and Northwestern. Even when the Wolverines were successful away from home, they knew that winning away from Crisler Arena would not be easy.
“We’ve always said, even when we won those first two on the road, we knew that it is tough to win on the road, especially in this conference,” freshman point guard Daniel Horton said. “Everybody sells out (the arenas), and the crowd is loud and everybody is jacked to play at home.”
Michigan played Minnesota at Crisler on Jan. 22 and beat the Gophers 75-63 in front of a large, boisterous home crowd. But Saturday the roles were reversed as the Gopher faithful packed Williams Arena and rode Michigan all game long.
The difference was apparent as the Minnesota team that showed up Saturday in no way resembled the dazed and confused squad that scored just one basket in the final seven minutes of the game played at Crisler.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Horton said. “Coach (Tommy Amaker) said the last game they didn’t play as well because they were on the road. But this game they were going to be in front of the home crowd and with the comfort level we had when we played them at home.”
Amaker, who spent the game perched on a stool on the raised court, expected a hostile environment, and that’s exactly what he and his team got.
“I’ve always said this is one of the toughest places to play – maybe one of the more underrated places to play – in terms of getting the recognition for how difficult it is (to play here),” Amaker said. “I’ve always felt that it is very very difficult to play here.”
Bangin’ inside: Saturday’s game was one of the most physical the Wolverines have played all season. Freshmen centers Graham Brown and Chris Hunter battled inside with Minnesota’s Jerry Holman, Rick Rickert and Jeff Hagen. Hunter had 10 points, while Brown dropped in 12 and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.
“It was physical out there, the ref let us play a little bit, and that’s good,” Hunter said. “We just tried to battle and get as many rebounds as we could and put a body on people so they couldn’t get many rebounds.”
Michigan outrebounded Minnesota 39-37, with the greatest disparity coming on the offensive glass, where the Wolverines pulled down 19 offensive boards to the Gophers’ 10.