When your team allows an average of more than 90 points per game over a three-game span, it’s tough to make any coaching change that will cause things to get worse.
With that reasoning in mind, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker shook up his lineup in search of a defensive boost.
Out: Courtney Sims – last time off the bench, March 10, 2005.
In: Chris Hunter – last start, Feb. 16, 2005.
Hunter’s performance left no room for second guesses.
The senior sparked the Wolverines out of the locker room, launching them to a 35-6 lead. In total, Hunter scored 13 points while collecting six boards, one steal, one assist and one block in his first start in 364 days.
“I thought that Chris Hunter was a catalyst,” Amaker said. “(He was) tremendous and allowed us to get out of the box early.”
By early, Amaker meant 40 seconds into the game.
Hunter justified his coach’s decision on the Wolverines’ first possession. He received a pass from Graham Brown down low and drew the foul before hitting both shots from the free-throw line. Just a few possessions later, sophomore Ron Coleman dished the ball to Hunter, who skied to the basket and hit the long lay-up. Hunter closed the half with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
The move came as a bit of a surprise, given that Brown and Sims, the Wolverines’ two most traditional post players, composed the starting frontcourt for the first 22 games of the season. But Sims said he knew before Wednesday he would begin the game in an unfamiliar position.
He gave his replacement the thumbs-up.
“He played big today,” Sims said. “He started us off on a good track.”
The same can’t be said for Sims. The junior began his day smoothly, finishing off a misplaced Daniel Horton lay-up with a dunk. But things fizzled after that. Sims played 14 minutes, the fewest of Michigan’s top four post players, and scored just four points.
To ensure there were no hard feelings, the regular starter and his replacement connected for a basket in the second half. Hunter dished the ball inside to Sims to earn his only assist of the game.
Time and time again: Fans have become accustomed to the tradition of senior Amadou Ba earning playing time in the waning minutes of a Wolverine blowout. On Wednesday night, Ba had company.
With 1:21 remaining in the game, Amaker inserted both Ba and sophomore Alex Brzozowicz into the game. Brzozowicz played in two games last season but had yet to see the court this year.
Re-statement game: On Jan. 25, Michigan sent a message to the college basketball world when it beat then-No. 11 Michigan State for the Wolverines’ first win over a ranked opponent this season.
On Saturday, Michigan heads to the Breslin Center hoping to send another, Attn: NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
With four games remaining in the season, a big win on the road could be the difference between a trip to the Big Dance and another NIT bid for the Wolverines.
The Spartans enter the contest on a two-game losing streak, having dropped their previous two games on the road (to unranked Minnesota and No. 20 Iowa). But Michigan State is undefeated at home this year.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo criticized the officiating following the last game between the two teams, after seeing his squad shoot 24 fewer free throws than the Wolverines.
Michigan may finally see the return of one of the trio of players that have recently been nursing injuries. Freshman Jerret Smith (mononucleosis) and junior Dion Harris (ankle) both said after Wednesday night’s game that they would play Saturday. Amaker said yesterday that both would be game-time decisions.
Amaker said that it is “highly unlikely” that Abram will be available on Saturday.