Michigan coach Tommy Amaker sent a simple message to his seniors following the team’s most recent lopsided loss.

Roshan Reddy
The Wolverine defense shut down Minnesota, holding the Gophers to just 35.7 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from beyond the arc. (TOMMASO GOMEX/DAILY)

“We need senior play right now,” Amaker said two days after Michigan’s 84-70 loss to last-place Purdue. “We need to have (the) guys who are veterans play of that makeup.”

They responded.

Following a weekend team meeting, a rejuvenated Michigan squad showed up to Crisler Arena last night. And for the first time in two weeks, it brought its defense with it.

The Wolverines used stifling defense out of the gate to jump out to an 18-2 lead. The early cushion allowed the team to coast to a 72-50 victory.

“I was really pleased to see how we responded defensively,” Amaker said. “We certainly struggled in our previous games, and I thought our defensive intensity tonight was tremendous.”

After the two teams traded baskets to begin the game, Michigan went on a 16-0 run over the eight minutes. With just seven minutes remaining in the half, Michigan’s lead had extended to 29. And there was one reason: defense.

“We came out and played defense well,” sophomore wing Ron Coleman said. “That’s what we had our main focus on. . Tonight, everyone gave good effort on the defensive end, and that translated over to our offense, too.”

Where did this defense come from?

The seniors called a players-only meeting over the weekend, with the emphasis on team defense.

“We just talked about coming out and giving more effort and having more intensity on the defensive end,” senior co-captain Chris Hunter said. “That’s what the meeting was about: our defense. Going out there and playing hard.

“We needed to have it. We needed to iron some things out and get things off our chest.”

Did they ever.

The Wolverines (7-5 Big Ten, 17-6 overall) entered the game on a three-game losing streak. During that streak, they had allowed over 90 points per game, almost 30 points more than their season average.

Going into last night’s game, it looked as if the skid might continue. Two teams heading in different directions faced off. The streaking Michigan squad had to match up with Minnesota (3-8, 12-10), which was coming off a 14-point victory against Michigan State on Saturday.

“We caught a team (last night) that was playing some of its best basketball,” Amaker said. “I thought that they were a team that everyone in our conference was recognizing as a team that was really pulling things together.”

But after Michigan’s red-hot start, there was little doubt as to how the game would play out.

That’s because the offense wasn’t too shabby, either. Michigan dropped 44 points in the first half, its most impressive opening stanza in conference play thus far.

Three players – including two of the seniors Amaker challenged to step up – scored in double figures during the opening half. Seniors Hunter and Daniel Horton, along with sophomore Coleman, each scored 11 points in the game’s first 20 minutes.

Horton finished the contest with a game-high 21 points. Although Coleman netted just two points in the second half, he produced 38 valuable minutes for a team whose bench was pretty scarce.

“I thought his jump shots early and his scoring early (along with) his defense on (Vincent) Grier and (Maurice) Hargrow was a heck of an effort,” Amaker said.

Michigan played without starters Dion Harris and Lester Abram as well as freshman point guard Jerret Smith for the second straight game.

Both Harris and Smith said they will be ready for Saturday’s game against in-state rival Michigan State. Harris dressed and went through warm-ups, but didn’t see game action. Smith was cleared to practice earlier in the week after battling mononucleosis. Amaker said he doubted Abram would be ready for Saturday’s rivalry game.

Whoever takes the court on Saturday, Horton said to expect more of what his team showed on Wednesday.

“Today, we knew we had to get this,” Horton said. “Now, we have to go and get ready for Michigan State.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *