It didn’t take long for Daniel Horton to get the message.
After Michigan coach Tommy Amaker called out the Wolverines’ backcourt following Tuesday’s 99-68 loss to Georgia Tech, Saturday was a chance for Horton, as well as all his teammates, to redeem himself and prove his importance to this team against another ranked opponent on national TV.
It also didn’t take long for Amaker to let him out of the doghouse.
“I can’t say enough about Daniel Horton,” Amaker said. “I thought his toughness and his will were unbelievable for us.”
Horton scored 15 points in Saturday’s thrilling 61-60 win over Notre Dame, including the game-winning layup, in which he was fouled and completed the three-point play to seal the victory.
Horton didn’t waste any time to prove his critics — including myself — completely wrong. He proved that he can still carry this team. I really believed his leadership was nonexistent against Georgia Tech, but he was clearly the man on Saturday, as he scored Michigan’s last four field goals (including two 3-pointers) and erased Notre Dame’s 10-point second-half lead. The entire Michigan team also sent a message that it can play a great team game, something that has been missing from this season to this point.
While the return of Horton’s dynamic leadership and steady play is cause for celebration, losing Lester Abram for the season brings back the cloud of doubt around this year’s team. Abram is Michigan’s best all-around player. And while he will certainly be missed, Saturday’s game showed that the Michigan bench is more than capable of stepping up to fill the void. The Notre Dame game was the best example of a team victory, and that’s what it’s going to take to be successful this season.
Take Ron Coleman. The lone freshman in this year’s recruiting class, Coleman was expected to be a role-player and chip in some minutes while letting the starters take a breather. It took him awhile to find his game, but he picked a good time to shine. He finished with 11 points, including two 3-pointers on 4-of-5 shooting. His play was especially crucial, since it was around the time when Horton was in foul trouble early in the second half. Most importantly, Coleman proved himself as a scoring threat for Michigan.
Take John Andrews. Looking at his stat line (four points, two assists, two steals), you might be thinking, “What did he do?” While his four points might seem unimpressive, his two baskets were spectacular. The first one, in particular, showed his toughness and determination. After crashing the boards on an errant 3-point shot, he managed to box out a Notre Dame forward for the rebound, then pump-fake and execute a reverse-layup from behind the backboard.
In just his second start, Andrews seemed to be finding his niche, and he contributed 28 minutes of solid playing time.
Take Brent Petway. His ESPN SportsCenter “Top-10 nominee” block at the end of the game was potentially the game-saver, but he has shown signs of improving the rest of his game this season as well. In his rap song “Number 1,” he seems proud to admit that all of his field goals last season were dunks. While everyone seems to love his ability to bring down the Crisler Arena roof with an explosive dunk, Petway has been working on his post-up moves, and has been trying to perfect his jump- and hook-shots. This gives opposing players another aspect of his electric play to worry about.
Take Chris Hunter. He’s not as flashy as Petway and not as strong as Courtney Sims, but he’s shown he can be a steady force in the frontcourt. Saturday’s game appeared to be more of an anomaly than the trend of his game this season, as he scored just three points. He had scored a combined 39 points in 61 minutes over the last four games (that’d be the equivalent of 26 points per 40 minute game). Having a guy that can come off the bench and make the most of his minutes by adding quick offense will prove to be huge in the Big Ten season. The 6-foot-11 forward is also shooting just below 80 percent from the stripe this season. As we saw in the final seconds on Saturday, that is a great asset for a forward to have.
I don’t want to take anything away from Horton’s heroics. He was the player of the game and the one guy all the players mentioned above looked to down the stretch on Saturday. But it will take a total team effort to be successful this season, something that was lacking from the Preseason NIT trip to New York and the Georgia Tech debacle.
With Horton and the rest of the team firing on all cylinders, this Michigan squad might not be in as much trouble without Abram as everyone thinks it could be.
Brian Schick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.