With 5:36 left in last night’s game between Michigan and Wisconsin, things couldn’t have looked bleaker for the Wolverines.
Michigan had put just 13 points on the board in the second half, and was steadily watching its Big Ten opener slip away to the tune of a 59-44 deficit.
But senior LaVell Blanchard – who had been sitting on the bench after starting the night 2-of-13 from the floor – returned to the lineup, and the Wolverines’ hopes quickly returned with him.
Blanchard hit three consecutive 3-pointers to pull Michigan within eight points with just under four minutes to go, turning around an evening that had, to that point, been miserable.
“When I hit the first one and saw the ball go through the bottom of the net, I said, ‘This is it, if we make a run, we’ve got to make a run now,’ ” Blanchard said.
But while Blanchard’s hot streak pulled Michigan back within striking distance, it was freshman Daniel Horton who took the Wolverines over the top.
After two Kirk Penney free throws pushed Wisconsin’s lead back to 10, Horton proceeded to sink two from behind the arc and a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 65-61.
Michigan stopped the Badgers and then Blanchard, who finished with 17 points, found himself open again and drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to make the score 65-64 with just over a minute to go.
“Blanchard was struggling all game but we had said that we were going to stick with it and have faith,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “He has ignited it for us, and Horton has been able to carry us through.”
Neither team was able to score over the next minute and after a traveling call against Wisconsin (0-1 Big Ten, 10-3 overall) with 18 seconds remaining, Michigan got the ball back facing a one-point deficit.
The Wolverines again put the ball in the hands of Horton, and the phenom managed to hit a running one-handed jumper over two defenders, capping off his game-high 25-point evening and giving Michigan (1-0, 8-6) its first lead since a 13-12 lead early in the first half.
As if Horton’s offensive heroics weren’t enough, the point guard blocked Devin Harris’ layup attempt on Wisconsin’s last possession, sealing Michigan’s spectacular victory and sending the Maize Rage storming onto the court.
“I was trying to contest the shot without fouling, and that is what I was able to do,” said Horton of his final block. “We are a totally different team from years past and right now we are showing it.”
Until Blanchard and Horton began connecting from long range late, Michigan’s chance at an eighth-consecutive victory appeared to be dead and buried.
The Wolverines weathered the storm in the first half as Wisconsin shot 52 percent from the field, time and time again working into the lane for easy baskets. Then Michigan almost went under during a nine-minute field goal drought in the second half, opening up the Badgers’ 15-point lead and sending some of the 8,809 fans at Crisler Arena heading – prematurely – for the exits.
“We didn’t do a great job against them defensively in the first half or the start of the second half,” Amaker said. “But our energy picked up because of LaVell – he really gave us a chance to win.
“An incredible effort against the defending Big Ten champions.”