MINNEAPOLIS – An emphatic whoop echoed through the rafters of Williams Arena.
And so did the player that made it.
Three minutes into the second half, Michgan guard Daniel Horton spotted up on the right wing. Ron Coleman fired a pass in his direction, and Horton caught it, rose and drained the 3-pointer.
As the Cedar Hill, Texas, native skipped back on defense, he let out a roar to warn Minnesota that he had come to win.
And to the Gopher faithful, Horton’s play on the floor echoed just as loudly as his emotional outburst.
On Saturday, Michigan fed off of Horton’s play to pull out its first Big Ten road victory this season and its first win in Williams Arena since 1993. The Wolverines defeated the Gophers 71-55 to move above .500 in the conference at 3-2.
“I thought (Horton’s) swagger, more than anything else, was the difference for us and the way that we played tonight,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
With No. 12 Michigan State and No. 13 Wisconsin traveling to Crisler Arena this week, Michigan desperately needed a win against a Minnesota team that has yet to notch a conference victory (0-5).
“We just wanted to finish this week,” junior Dion Harris said. “Starting with Northwestern on Wednesday, we just wanted to finish the week off and look forward to next week when we have two more big games.”
Horton made sure that the Wolverines (13-3 overall) didn’t fall. The senior scored a career-high 32 points and made key shots when the Wolverines needed them most.
In the first half, Horton accounted for 10 of the first 14 Michigan points. He stroked three from beyond the arc, one of which he converted into a four-point play.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Horton said. “(Assistant) coach (Mike) Jackson and I have talked the last week or so about me being aggressive, especially after the second halves I’ve had since conference play’s started. He just wanted me to play aggressive for 40 minutes.”
Michigan used Horton’s fast start to jump out to an 11-point lead early, but the Gophers (9-7) turned up their defensive intensity. Using its half-court trap, Minnesota held the Wolverines scoreless for just over six minutes and closed the gap to three points with 3:30 remaining in the first half.
But just when the Gophers rolled to the brink of breaking the game open in their favor, Horton killed their momentum.
With 23 seconds left in the first frame, Horton snatched an errant Lester Abram pass away from a Minnesota defender near half court, calmly dribbled to the wing and hit a 3-pointer to double the Wolverines lead from three to six points going into the locker room.
When the second half started, Michigan looked poised to put the game out of Minnesota’s reach after it built a 16-point lead in the first five minutes.
But once again, the Gophers refused to throw in the towel. They closed the lead to 10 points with 12 minutes left before Harris took center stage for the Wolverines.
In a span of a minute, the junior hit two 3-pointers that effectively ended the Gophers’ chance of winning the contest. After registering a quiet six points in the first half, Harris used his downtown barrage to finish the game with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
“Those shots that he was able to make in the later stages were the ones that took the life out of Minnesota,” Amaker said. “I really felt that his ability to step up and make those big threes stretched it out for us and gave us the confidence to finish the game.”
Even though the Wolverines emerged from Williams Arena with the victory, they also left it with one question mark: the status of Lester Abram’s health.
Just a few minutes into the second half, the junior – who has already been hobbled this season by a sprained toe – tumbled to the ground. Immediately, he clutched his left ankle and grimaced in pain. He had to be helped to his feet by his teammates and limped to the locker room. He did not return to the Wolverine bench and after the game, he left the locker room in a boot and on crutches.
“When he went down, it was a big blow,” Horton said. “But we knew that we had to continue building on what we were already doing.”