The Northwestern pep band waited until
halftime to bust out its version of the song “Time
Warp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Chris Burke

Fortunately for Michigan, Daniel Horton was way ahead of
them.

In the Wolverines’ 27th and final regular season game,
Horton, who has struggled on the offensive end all year, finally
played like the freshman version of himself.

He was aggressive, his shot was dropping and, in a must-win game
for the Wolverines, he finally appeared to rediscover the form that
made him Michigan’s go-to guy last season.

“We’re starting to see the Daniel Horton of
old,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was nice to
see that out of him.”

What Amaker saw had to be a sight for sore eyes.

With Michigan struggling to a 7-1 deficit out of the blocks
against an emotionally charged Northwestern team, Horton took
control until the rest of the Wolverines settled in.

Horton’s 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 7-4 four minutes
into the game was the opening act.

The real show began with just under 12 minutes left in the first
half.

The sophomore started an 18-5 Michigan run with a driving layup.
He then hit a floater in the lane against Northwestern star Jitim
Young, and followed that by beating guard T.J. Parker baseline for
an easy basket.

Horton capped off his spectacular run by stealing a pass from
Vedran Vukusic, and turning Parker inside out with a slick
behind-the-back dribble to set up a layup.

A 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in the half gave Horton 14
points in the game’s first 20 minutes and, more importantly,
staked Michigan to a 32-31 halftime lead that it would never
relinquish in its 63-56 win.

“I just did what it took for us to be successful,”
Horton said. “We were in a hole when Bernard (Robinson) and
Lester (Abram) went out with foul trouble, so I had to step up.

“You just have to do what it takes to win.”

For much of this season, the Wolverines have struggled in that
facet.

They’ve been unable to make the big play down the stretch,
unable to come up with that big rebound or a crucial turnover.

And part of the problem is that Horton, the player who was the
catalyst behind this program’s revitalization last year, has
had trouble finding the answers this season.

Saturday’s breakout performance of 16 points, four
rebounds and four assists hinted that Horton might finally be ready
to take control of this team again.

“Our offense is so much better (when Horton is
aggressive),” Michigan center Graham Brown said.
“Daniel’s a great player for us, and he’s even
better when he can get to the basket, and he opens things up for
everyone else.”

On Saturday, Horton’s performance opened up a possibility
for this team.

If Horton is struggling, then Michigan is a decent team —
it’s the team that limped its way to an 8-8 conference mark
in a depleted Big Ten conference.

If Horton is at his best, though — attacking the glass and
creating for his teammates — there isn’t a team in the
Big Ten that Michigan need be afraid of.

With the Big Ten Tournament just days away, there couldn’t
possibly be a better time for Horton to reestablish himself as the
latter.

“When Horton’s scoring, it helps us out a
lot,” Robinson said. “People don’t know whether
he’s going to take it to the basket or put up the
(jumper).”

Robinson was a recipient of the benefits of Horton’s
attacking play late in Saturday’s victory. Northwestern was
within four with four minutes remaining in the game, but Horton
penetrated into the lane, drew two defenders and found Robinson
spotting up for a wide-open 3-pointer that gave Michigan a late
seven-point cushion.

“I was able to stay out of foul trouble and I just wanted
to attack,” Horton said.

The challenge for Horton comes in maintaining the level of play
he displayed on Saturday. One game doesn’t erase a season
full of troubles, but a three-game run of stellar contributions in
the Big Ten Tournament would go a long way.

“He got his confidence going,” Amaker said.
“He’s just a sophomore, and so if he gets his
confidence and keeps rolling … we know what kind of player
he can be.”

That potential was evident all last season, when Horton often
carried Michigan on his shoulders.

On Saturday, finally, that player, that fabulous freshman,
showed up.

A Big Ten Tournament run — and potential NCAA berth for
the Wolverines — will rely heavily on whether or not Horton
is able to continue playing like he did all last year.

Whether or not he’s able to, as the song says, “do
the Time Warp, again.”

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

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