MINNEAPOLIS – When was the last time the Michigan basketball team turned to five freshmen at once to lead it down the stretch and deliver in clutch situations?

If you said Saturday at Minnesota, you’re right.

With senior LaVell Blanchard and junior Bernard Robinson each having four fouls before the halfway point of the second half, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker was low on options.

With time running out, the crowd getting rowdier and the Gophers’ momentum growing, Amaker made an unexpected move.

He inserted freshman Chris Hunter for Blanchard, and put in seldom-used Sherrod Harrell for Robinson. Along with Daniel Horton, Lester Abram and Graham Brown, the Wolverines had five freshmen on the floor to claw their way back in a hostile environment.

The freshmen ended up spending the majority of the final 10 minutes together on the floor. Although they aren’t Michigan’s most talented five-man combination, they almost succeeded in leading the Wolverines back from double digits with just over 11 minutes to play in the second half.

“I thought our freshmen were absolutely phenomenal,” Amaker said. “To be able to battle back and give us a one possession opportunity to tie the game up, they gave us a chance.

“They played with guts, they played with character – they just came up a bit short.”

At 11:17 in the second half, Michigan trailed by 11 points. It was Minnesota’s largest lead of the game, and it appeared as though Michigan was beginning to fade. But with under a minute to play, Michigan was down just three, and had the ball. The Wolverines swung it around to Abram, who found himself wide open at the top of the arc, but bricked the shot that would have tied it.

“We were just trying to play as hard as we could,” Abram said. “We were trying to win, we fought hard, but it wasn’t enough.”

The Wolverines fell just short in a game that was shaping up to be a blowout. But Horton and Abram would not allow that to happen.

Both made clutch basket after basket to keep the Wolverines hanging around. Abram, who scored 11 points in the first half to lead the team, played 40 minutes for the first time of the season. Horton also spent the entire game on the floor for the third time this season.

Brown and Hunter had difficulty controlling Minnesota’s inside game. Big man Jeff Hagen led the Gophers’ charge in the second half with three consecutive 3-point plays. But despite the size disadvantage, Michigan’s centers stayed aggressive, making several scrappy plays down the stretch to keep the game alive.

And finally, there was Sherrod Harrell. Although he didn’t shoot much, his 3-point basket with 1:05 remaining brought Michigan within two and might have turned out to be the biggest basket of the game had Michigan been able to come back.

“I’m happy he had the confidence in me to call my name,” Harrell said.

All in all, Michigan’s freshmen scored 63 points and grabbed 24 rebounds in 147 minutes. It was the first time that four freshman have scored in double digits in the same game. With Michigan’s two leaders struggling, the young group took the burden on their shoulders.

“We didn’t have the contributions from our two veteran guys, but the freshmen were going toe-to-toe with (Minnesota),” Amaker said. “I liked how they were playing, and I liked our chemistry on the court when they were out there.”

The all-freshman combination certainly didn’t become Michigan’s optimal five-man team, but it definitely turned into a legitimate option for Amaker in the future (this season and beyond) if the situation calls for it.

Saturday night, the situation called for it, and they almost delivered.

“I’m not sure that anyone was playing tougher than those guys on the floor,” Amaker said. “They made the run for us, and we were going to stick with them.”

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