EVANSTON — Michigan sophomore Manny Harris couldn’t remember the last time he was in “the zone.”
But during the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 70-67 overtime victory yesterday at Northwestern, he found it.
“Today, I was able to get in the zone,” said Harris, who scored 25 points in the second half and overtime. “And that was a good thing.”
Yesterday’s game at Welsh-Ryan Arena was the first of four road trips the Wolverines (6-7 Big Ten, 16-10 overall) will make in their final six games. Entering the game, Michigan had just one road win, a 72-66 victory over Indiana on Jan. 7.
Michigan needed to top the Wildcats.
And ultimately, the outcome was all in Harris’s hands.
“I said, ‘Fresh, we’re going down with you,’ ” fifth-year senior C.J. Lee said of Harris, whose nickname is “Manny Fresh.” “‘You’re our guy, and you know it. Just do what you do.'”
Harris scored just one point in the first half, sitting the final 11 minutes of the frame after picking up his second foul. Harris said that early in the season, the two early fouls would have been frustrating. But yesterday, he stayed positive.
He came out looking possessed in the second half, scoring the Wolverines’ first nine points of the stanza and 12 of their final 17.
“Your confidence is so high, and your swagger’s up so high,” Harris said of being in the zone. “You feel like you’re going to make every shot.”
A loss would have flipped the two squads in the Big Ten standings, dropping the Wolverines to ninth and putting Northwestern (4-8, 13-10) in eighth.
The win moves Michigan just one game behind the logjam for fifth between Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin. The Wolverines play the Golden Gophers twice and the Badgers once in their final five games.
But Harris’s effort almost went for naught.
The Wolverines blew a five-point lead in the final one minute and 44 seconds of regulation, highlighted by an off-balanced 3-pointer by Northwestern’s Kevin Coble.
In overtime, Michigan led by six with fewer than two minutes to go before Coble scored five straight. A layup by Northwestern guard Jeremy Nash cut the lead to one with 15 seconds left, but two free throws by Lee four seconds later held off the Wildcats.
“We went back to just how tough we are and how we’ve conditioned for this,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And this is an area that we’ve worked at, being tough when there’s adversity, when you’re tired.”
Not only did Michigan triumph over fatigue, it proved down the stretch why it leads the Big Ten in free-throw percentage (76.1 percent). The Wolverines shot 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in overtime.
Harris’s performance overshadowed the rest of the Wolverines. Redshirt freshman Laval Lucas-Perry added 10 points and junior DeShawn Sims chipped in with eight.
With each of Michigan’s remaining five regular-season games having NCAA Tournament implications, the Wolverines better hope Harris doesn’t forget what it feels like to be in the zone again.