INDIANAPOLIS — For the second straight year, Michigan lost
a Big Ten Tournament game that the Wolverines felt they could have
won.

For the second straight year, the Wolverines were also left to
wonder what might have been had they been at full strength.

Last season, on the eve of Michigan’s quarterfinal matchup
with Indiana, guard Daniel Horton suffered a sprained ankle in
practice. He played against the Hoosiers but was far from
100-percent, and Indiana pulled out a win.

On Saturday, just hours before Michigan’s critical
semifinal contest with Illinois, the Wolverines learned they would
be without the services of sophomore Lester Abram.

Abram hurt his left — and shooting — shoulder on a
freak play with 13:16 left in Michigan’s victory over Iowa on
Friday. After having his shot blocked by Iowa’s Erik Hansen,
Abram turned and tried to swat the ball from Hansen’s grip.
But when he made contact with the ball, his shoulder briefly popped
out of place, sending Abram to the ground in agony.

He would return to the lineup just a few minutes later and go
8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final minutes as Michigan
put the Hawkeyes away.

But on Saturday, Abram reinjured the shoulder during a morning
shoot-around, forcing the Wolverines to play without one of their
top scorers.

“I couldn’t lift my arm,” Abram said. “I
tried to ease the pain a little bit (with a shot an hour before the
game) — it would be different if it was my right arm. I
couldn’t grab rebounds, put my arms up to play defense or
shoot the ball.”

Prior to Michigan’s final regular season game at
Northwestern on March 6, Abram pulled himself from the starting
lineup in an effort to build freshman Dion Harris’s
confidence — a move that sparked Harris to a solid showing at
Northwestern and a career-high 23 points in the Big Ten Tournament
quarterfinals against Iowa.

But Abram, off the bench or as a starter, is one of the
Wolverines’ top offensive options. His 13 points per game
make him Michigan’s leading scorer, and at 41 percent from
behind the arc and 86 percent at the free throw, Abram is one of
the Big Ten’s best pure shooters.

“It hurt us,” said Horton of Abram’s absence.
“He’s been our leading scorer the whole year.
He’s been a big contributor for this team rebounding and
playing defense, so it hurt.”

Center Chris Hunter was also quick to point out how much
Abram’s injury hindered the Wolverines.

“That’s a tough loss,” Hunter said.
“That’s 13, 14 points a game and energy and defense off
the bench.”

Abram’s absence forced Michigan coach Tommy Amaker to give
more playing time to sophomore Sherrod Harrell — who has been
used in a limited role as a defensive stopper this year. Harrell
finished the game with 13 minutes, grabbing three rebounds.

Horton and Harris were also forced to stay on the court longer
— which is not an ideal situation when playing two games
within 24 hours. The two guards posted 38 and 34 minutes,
respectively, while combining for 27 points against Illinois.

“Lester’s a huge part of this team,” Harrell
said. “We knew a couple of guys would have to step up and
play big to compensate — it was just being ready.”

In spite of the solid efforts from those forced to pick up the
slack, there was no question that Abram, who is scheduled to have
an MRI on his shoulder, was sorely missed.

The look on Abram’s face all afternoon showed that he knew
his presence could have provided a huge boost.

“Of course (it was difficult),” Abram said. “I
felt like I could be out there helping the team.”

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