The key to Michigan basketball’s breakthrough season last
year was the team’s 78-67 victory in late February at
then-No. 24 Purdue. It gave the Wolverines their first win over a
ranked opponent in two years, and a brief taste of sole possession
of first place in the Big Ten.

Beth Dykstra
Through 18 games, Daniel Horton has struggled to produce. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)

Daniel Horton scored a career-high 31 points in that game to
highlight his sparkling freshman season. Just a month later, he was
named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

“He was as much a part of (the success) as anyone,”
coach Tommy Amaker said.

The Boilermakers storm into Crisler Arena tomorrow afternoon for
their only meeting with Michigan this season. The current
Wolverines depend on a big win to keep some of their goals for the
season, like winning the conference and making the NCAA Tournament,
within reach. And Horton will again be key to that success. The
sophomore’s averaging 12 points per game — three less
than last year.

“He hasn’t played as well as he’s capable of
playing,” Amaker said. “We know that it’s a
growth process. It takes time and he’s going to have to fight
through it.”

Horton’s made just 35 percent of his shots this season
— although that’s down only two percent from last
season’s mark.

Freshmen Dion Harris and Courtney Sims’s arrival has
contributed to Horton’s scoring decline.

“Last year, if my shot didn’t fall a couple of
times, I had some leeway to where I could just keep shooting and
get out of it,” Horton said. “But this year, with the
guys that we have, it’s not in the team’s best interest
for me to keep firing it up there if I’m not making
any.”

The sophomore has to defend better players this year. Amaker
said that he held Horton back on defense last season because of the
guard’s importance on offense.

Now, the Wolverines’ added depth has freed up Horton to
try and shut down some potent offensive players. Last week he
helped hold Iowa’s Jeff Horner to three points.

“Daniel took that as a big challenge,” Amaker
said.

Horton’s increased focus on defense has led to foul
trouble at times, and could be draining some of the energy he grew
used to having on the other end of the floor last year.

Tomorrow, Horton and the Wolverines will need a full tank
against an experienced Boilermaker team that is known for its
high-pressure, man-to-man defense.

Senior Kenneth Lowe, Purdue’s leading scorer, has missed
the last two games with a sprained elbow. His status for tomorrow
is unknown. Without Lowe, Purdue lost to Ohio State last weekend
but rebounded and routed Penn State on Wednesday.

The Boilermakers could be the team to help Horton recapture his
freshman scoring magic.

“His confidence is still there,” senior Bernard
Robinson said. “A lot of people have been putting him down,
but there’s a lot of season to go. He’ll be A-OK. Trust
me.”

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