After a key road win at Iowa on Wednesday, Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Fairfield at Crisler Arena didn’t seem to have much of a billing. It was Michigan’s last scheduled nonconference game, sandwiched between the Big Ten openers on the road and at home.
But there was no sign of an emotional letdown for the Michigan team in Saturday’s win over the Stags (3-1 MAAC, 6-7 overall), as the Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 10-5) prevailed in runaway fashion, 70-48.
“We just want to win,” junior guard Daniel Horton said. “We just want to win our next game. That’s one of our team goals. It doesn’t matter if it’s a conference game or a nonconference game.”
Sophomore guard Dion Harris led all scorers with 20 points and chipped in four rebounds and four assists — one of his most complete games of the season.
Harris’s performance may have been boosted by the presence of Horton, who played in his second game since returning from a knee injury.
“Now that Daniel’s back, I think I can go back to just going out there and playing and not worry about everything I have to do,” Harris said. “I have another backcourt mate in Daniel to help me.”
Horton scored nine points and handed out four assists, but he admits that he is not at full speed yet and played just 17 minutes.
“I still feel like I’m a couple steps behind,” Horton said. “It’s just a process. It’s going to be like this. My knee is going to be sore some days, and I just have to fight through it.”
Horton’s sprained knee isn’t the only injury still affecting the team. Junior forward Chris Hunter did not dress for Saturday’s game due to an ankle injury he sustained at Iowa, leaving the Wolverines especially thin inside with junior Graham Brown still recovering from hernia surgery.
The lack of inside power forced the backcourt to deliver, and it did. Michigan shot 50 percent from 3-point range for the game on 9-of-18 shooting. Harris did most of the damage, going 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Freshman Ron Coleman also had his share of success from deep. He shot 3-for-7 from 3-point range on his way to a career-high 18 points. He scored 15 of his points in the first half, going 5-for-7 from the field.
“I knew that by working hard in practice they were going to start falling in games,” Coleman said. “Now that my confidence is there, I have my teammates telling me to take those shots.”
Coleman’s play helped take the scoring load off of Michigan’s injured interior, which may have taken another hit at the end of the game. With just over a minute remaining in the game, sophomore forward Brent Petway left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury — another affliction just when it seemed Michigan had survived the worst of the injury bug.
“I’m anxious to see at whatever point we can get (everyone) back and see what kind of team we have,” Amaker said.
The win was Michigan’s fourth win in a row, its longest such streak of the season. The Wolverines return to conference play on Wednesday when they host Northwestern.
“We’ve had a very difficult schedule and it’s been very challenging for our team,” Amaker said. “We’ve had a stretch where things have been pretty tough, but I like to think that our kids have battled and put us in a good position right now.”