MADISON – In a disappointing season for the Michigan men’s basketball team, freshman guard Manny Harris has risen above the anguish time and time again.
So it was a bit strange when a media relations official told the Wolverines’ leading scorer to stand up for interviews after last night’s 64-61 loss at No. 11 Wisconsin (6-0 Big Ten, 16-2 overall).
After all, the Detroit native had already done plenty to make his presence felt.
Even before Harris poured in a career-high 26 points, he dominated the pre-game locker room.
“Play with heart.”
“C’mon, we can do this.”
“We can win.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said that kind of talk sometimes seems like lip service. But not with Harris, who showed last night he’s back – and maybe better than ever.
The freshman was one of Michigan’s top two scorers in all but one of this season’s first 16 games.
But last week he tallied a career-low five points at Illinois, a game in which he injured his right big toe. Then, Iowa held him in check during Saturday’s 68-60 loss.
Harris said he tried to cruise too much through those games, not testing his toe enough.
But after losing to the Hawkeyes, he decided not to do that anymore. The team needed his scoring.
And shooting 11-of-19 in 38 minutes last night, he provided just that, hitting his jumpers and pounding his way to the basket.
Harris’s effort helped the Wolverines play their closest game of the season. Wisconsin had runs of 10-2, 7-2 and 11-3. In most games, any of those would have put Michigan away. But the Wolverines showed a resilience rarely seen this year.
Wisconsin didn’t have a comfortable cushion until junior Marcus Landry nailed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining to give the Badgers a four-point lead. That bucked the recent trend in this series.
The Badgers had won their last six home games against Michigan by an average margin of 19.5 points. They beat the Wolverines by 16 earlier this month at Crisler Arena.
Even though this latest defeat guarantees Michigan (1-6, 5-14) will have more losses than last season, the team appears to be finally showing progress.
“We turned the corner,” Harris said. “We (didn’t) really help our wins and losses. Even if it’s getting us better next year, or the Big Ten Tournament or anything, I just feel like we made a big improvement.”
But on this night, improvement didn’t spell a win for Michigan – even with the efforts of its rising freshman.