All of Crisler Arena was on its feet last night as chants of “Daniel Horton” echoed through the near-capacity crowd.

The target of the arena’s praise calmly stepped to the line to cap off his best performance yet as a Wolverine.

But before Daniel Horton could attempt his first free throw, Illinois star point guard Dee Brown got right up in Horton’s face in a last-ditch effort for the desperate Illini.

“He was just trying a veteran trick,” Horton said. “He was trying to take some time and ice me a little bit, but I knew he was going to do something like that. He’s a heady player, and he does stuff like that to try and gain advantages.”

But it didn’t work. Horton iced the game with two free throws, extending Michigan’s lead to 70-64. Two more Horton free throws 14 seconds later brought the game to its final score, 72-64.

Nothing that the eighth-ranked Illini threw at Horton worked.

The senior had to put up with the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year in Brown.

It didn’t matter.

He had to worry about an increased role on offense with two starters sitting out with injuries.

It didn’t matter.

And he had the burden of a school’s dwindling NCAA Tournament hopes resting solely on his shoulders.

But it didn’t matter.

Horton showed last night that when he’s in the zone, he can’t be stopped.

“It was phenomenal – you can just call it that,” senior co-captain Graham Brown said of Horton’s 39-point performance. “There’s nothing else you can say about it. . Without him, we wouldn’t have been anywhere near (winning).”

Horton’s coach concurred.

“I just thought that his courage, his will and the way that he put us on his back offensively was an absolutely brilliant, brilliant game on his part,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.

The win bumped Michigan’s record to 18-7. More importantly, it gave the Wolverines a victory against a top-10 opponent. Just days after a 19-point loss to rival Michigan State put Michigan’s postseason hopes in serious jeopardy, the focus in the locker room kicked back to the conference title race. The Wolverines remain just two games out of first place with an 8-6 conference record.

“It puts us in a position to stay in the hunt right now within the conference,” Amaker said. “We recognize how good Illinois has been over the past few years. It certainly puts us in a (good) position with a signature win around the country.”

Illinois entered the game as the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten. It needed a win over Michigan to claim a share of the conference lead.

The Illini’s signature stifling defense came into the game ranked first in the conference. Prior to last night’s game, they had allowed 70 points just once this season prior – a 79-74 victory over Michigan earlier this season.

When it came to stopping seven other Wolverines, Illinois (8-5 Big Ten, 22-5 overall) did just that. It shut down Michigan’s fourth-ranked Big Ten offense. It limited those Wolverines to 10-of-27 shooting from the field. But fortunately for Michigan – and its up-in-the-air tournament hopes – eight Wolverines played.

And the eighth was Horton.

Horton scored 25 second-half points, five fewer than the entire Illini squad did, en route to a season-high 39. The amount is tops in the Big Ten this season and is the most Illinois has allowed a single player to score in 12 years.

“It’s frustrating when players like Daniel Horton get open shots,” Dee Brown said. “Horton played unbelievable. He came out and was absolutely fantabulous.”

Horton’s unbelievable play didn’t seem like it would be enough in the game’s early stages.

Illinois dictated play throughout the first half. It never trailed and didn’t allow a player other than Horton to score until midway through the half.

But a different Michigan team came out of the locker room for the second half.

It went right after Illinois’s strength in the half’s first five minutes: its 3-point defense. The Illini entered the game allowing teams to shoot just 30 percent from beyond the arc – best in the Big Ten.

But Michigan came out on fire, making five treys in the half’s first four minutes. It didn’t even attempt a two-point shot until five minutes had passed. Horton made three, with teammates Dion Harris and Ron Coleman each adding one apiece.

Horton’s final three during that stretch gave Michigan a two-point advantage, a lead it would not relinquish.

Illinois players were close to awestruck following the game. Guard Chester Frazier said there was nothing the Illini could do about Horton. Center James Augustine said if they knew how to stop Horton, they would have. And Illinois coach Bruce Weber characterized Horton’s performance as Kobe Bryant-like.

Horton opted to focus on the game’s effect on the team. He said he hoped his performance showed what a Michigan team can do when March rolls around.

“We had a chance to solidify some things, and (making a bid for the NCAA Tournament) was one of them,” Horton said. “It was our first time beating them since we’ve been here, and it gives us the confidence that we can play with anybody and beat anybody.”

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