IOWA CITY — As time ran out at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last night, Daniel Horton carried the ball off the floor and through the handshake line with the Iowa bench. But Horton wasn’t just helping out the equipment managers. He was responsible for leading Michigan to a huge road win for the struggling program.
If I asked you what would be a bigger shocker heading into this game, Horton returning to the lineup and scoring 13 points in 26 minutes of play or Michigan edging out the No. 14 team in the nation on the road, it seems like a push. Both were big improbabilities for a team that has been severely bitten by the injury bug this season.
There were so many intangibles that Horton brought to the Wolverines, and it was apparent that both Horton and Michigan coach Tommy Amaker felt comfortable leaving Horton and his ailing left knee in the game during the final moments. But more than just a body on the floor, Horton played the best all-around game of the night.
Although Horton didn’t start, it didn’t take him long to find his rhythm once he entered the game. He hit his first shot and then sunk a 3-pointer a few possessions later. He was able to penetrate and create opportunities for Dion Harris from behind the arc, as well as pass off to Brent Petway, who led the Wolverines with 14.
All that is great, but Horton brought the one thing that seemed to be missing from Michigan’s last few games: energy. Horton was able to breathe life into a stagnant offense that had seen little ball movement and had a tough time creating quality shots. Horton also brought hustle on the defensive side, selflessly diving on the floor for loose balls, including one that led to a critical possession for Michigan off a jump ball at the end of the game.
The scary part was that it seemed Horton didn’t miss a beat and was able to not only score his 13 points, but also make those around him better. Three other players — Courtney Sims, Harris and Petway — scored in double digits for Michigan, and Ron Coleman chipped in eight as well. Against Iowa, the Wolverines knew that they would need to give the Hawkeyes lots of different looks. And having Horton back in the lineup gave Michigan the ability to work a successful inside-out game that gave Iowa several different looks.
If hardly anyone expected Horton to play, no one thought he could jump right in and contribute, including Amaker.
“I really didn’t expect him to play this well,” Amaker said. “His play was a big shot in the arm for our team.”
Horton’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for Michigan. The Wolverines suffered two devastating losses over break, both in painful fashion in the final minutes. On Dec. 14 against Boston University, Michigan was down most of the game, and managed to cut the Terriers’ lead to just one point, but gave up a huge run to end the game. On the road against UCLA, Michigan — which was winning most of the game this time — just failed to score down the stretch as the Bruins went on a huge run to end the game.
Last night, the Wolverines were able to keep the Hawkeyes at bay down the stretch, mostly due to Horton’s presence on the court.
Heading into this game, it seemed that Michigan’s chances of stealing a win on the road against a quality team was about as bleak as the current weather conditions in Iowa City. Michigan had dropped its entire slate of road and neutral site games this season, and went 2-6 on the road in the Big Ten last season. But with Horton back in the lineup, the Wolverines demonstrated why they are still capable of surprising people this season.
“We showed that we’re still a good basketball team,” Horton said. “We kept on fighting, and that shows great maturity by our team.”
This team has matured immensely over the past few weeks with juniors Horton, Lester Abram and Graham Brown out of the lineup. Still, many have still written off Michigan as a threat in the Big Ten. But with Horton back in the lineup, the Wolverines just might surprise.
Brian Schick can be reached at email@example.com.