While the revolving door of injuries to the Michigan men’s basketball team continues to spin, it may now be starting to turn in the right direction.
“It seems like we get somebody back and somebody else is out,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It seemed like it has been a bit of a juggling act.”
Guard Daniel Horton recently returned after missing six games with a sprained left knee, and tri-captain Graham Brown is expected to practice today, though hernia surgery has sidelined the forward for 13 games. The Wolverines have been without last year’s team MVP, Lester Abram, since December.
In Michigan’s 65-63 win against then-No. 14 Iowa last Wednesday, junior Chris Hunter left the game with a sprained ankle after playing just 11 minutes.
Hunter, who has averaged 15.8 points per game as a starter this season, did not play against Fairfield. Amaker didn’t know when the forward would return to action, but he is hopeful it will be next week.
Without Hunter on the floor, the Wolverines held Fairfield center Deng Gai to just 10 points but struggled against one of the nation’s best defensive big men. Gai held Michigan’s frontline of Courtney Sims and Brent Petway to a combined 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting.
Reserve forward J.C. Mathis matched up better with Gai’s larger frame than Sims or Petway and netted eight points. Mathis may see even more playing time after Petway injured his left shoulder attempting to grab a rebound against Fairfield.
“I reached in for the rebound and (DeWitt Maxwell) grabbed the rebound with two hands, and he kind of ripped it back a little bit with my arm still in there,” Petway said. “Smashed my arm back. So I had something pop right out of place, but it popped right back in.”
When asked if he was okay, Petway said: “Yeah, I should be straight. I’ll be straight.”
As Petway walked to the locker room in the waning minutes of the game, grabbing the shoulder and eyeing Maxwell, Michigan guard Dani Wohl returned to the court for the first time since playing 30 minutes against High Point on Dec. 7. Wohl injured his left elbow during a practice following the High Point game.
“It felt great (to get back) out there,” Wohl said. “My elbow felt great. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Wohl’s availability will ease Horton’s transition back into the mix. Horton’s game appears to be unaffected by his injury, but the junior admits he’s still healing.
“No, I’m not at 100 percent, but, I mean, who is this time of year?” Horton said. “I still try and get after it defensively like I’ve always done. That’s what I want to do first and foremost. Whatever I do offensively, that just helps the team out because those guys have been scoring points and doing well without me.”
The guard added nine points against Fairfield but looked more tentative offensively than he did against Iowa, attempting just four shots in 17 minutes against the Stags.
With the return of Horton and Wohl — and with Brown and Hunter expected back soon — the Wolverines are primed to become even more confident.
“We were very disappointed in how things occurred with the some of the injuries,” Amaker said. “Guys are starting to work there way back in. I think there is a renewed spirit for our team.”
Horton’s return, in particular, has been freeing up better looks for fellow guards Ron Coleman and Dion Harris and should steadily elevate Michigan’s collective rhythm.
“It hurts the chemistry when you have had guys that have been playing well and everybody knows how to play with them and then they go out,” Harris said. “Someone else has to step in that usually doesn’t get a lot of minutes. That can hurt. That can make things kind of difficult for the team.
And even though Petway’s status remains uncertain going into Wednesday night’s game against Northwestern, the Wolverines have already proven to be effective jugglers.
“With Brent going out, I think guys are ready to step in a role right now, and everybody is prepared for anything that happens,” Harris said.
Said Amaker: “We are hoping (the injuries) are going to make us a better, stronger, deeper team.”
Notes: After its 70-48 win over Fairfield on Saturday, Michigan extended its winning streak to a season-long four games … Fairfield’s Deng Gai — cousin of current Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng — declared for the NBA Draft last year but decided to return for his senior season. At the Chicago pre-draft camp, Gai played on the same assigned team as former Michigan standout forward Bernard Robinson. Gai is averaging 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 blocks this year for the Stags … Amaker and Fairfield coach Tim O’Toole both served as coaches under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. O’Toole also served as an assistant under Amaker at Seton Hall … The Wolverines are 5-1 all-time against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) teams. Michigan has a 3-0 record against Fairfield and is 2-1 against Manhattan.