By Megan Kolodgy
Daily Sports Writer
STATE COLLEGE — It’s no secret that Michigan freshman Ron Coleman is becoming more adept at shooting from beyond the arc. In each of the Wolverines’ three Big Ten games this season, Coleman’s percentage from downtown has been better than his overall field-goal percentage.
But in the first half of Saturday’s game at Penn State (0-4 Big Ten, 6-11 overall), the trey just wasn’t falling for the freshman. With a little more than seven minutes left in the half, he lined up for the familiar shot and fired. But this time, he didn’t just miss — he threw up an airball.
For the remainder of the half, and a good portion of the second half, the Penn State faithful mocked him mercilessly, chanting “airball” any time he even considered taking a shot. Another airball made their jabs look like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the Wolverines (3-0, 12-5) had faith in their lone freshman and perhaps more importantly, he had faith in himself. In the last 6:06 of the contest, Coleman knocked down four treys, including one with 37 seconds remaining that put the Wolverines up by five and essentially sealed the 66-62 win for Michigan — the team’s sixth consecutive victory.
“He’s a freshman, and he’ll play like a freshman — hopefully not for much longer,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “At times, he will do that. But I thought his teammates really stuck with him — showed a lot of faith and trust in him, and you can see why … He’s been a terrific player for us this year, and certainly his play (on Saturday) was outstanding in the second half.”
Although Coleman appeared rattled by the Penn State crowd, he said that it did not impact his play.
“I was rushing my shots a little bit,” Coleman said. “They weren’t falling, but I just kept looking for the open shot … I’ve just got to keep playing my game.”
The freshman’s 3-pointers were critical in offsetting junior Daniel Horton and sophomore Dion Harris’s cold shooting in the second half. Harris notched 14 points in the first frame but was held scoreless for the rest of the game — a dearth that was largely due to the defense of Nittany Lions Ben Luber and Mike Walker. Horton managed just six points, but his floor performance may have made up for his lack of production. He recorded a career-best 10 assists and just one turnover, albeit a critical one that allowed Penn State to come within four points with just over two minutes left. By making up for his offensive setbacks through his care and distribution of the ball, Horton’s maturity as a leader and a player was that much more present.
Junior captain Graham Brown’s leadership was also impressive. This was Brown’s second game back since a six-week absence from the court due to hernia surgery, but he certainly did not look to be hampered by any lingering pain. Brown got several open looks down low and finished off the game with 13 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, which gave him his first collegiate double-double.
“I thought Brown played exceptionally well for them,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “We let him get too deep at times, and he got too much. We were trying to make somebody else beat us, and he stepped up and did.”
In a game that was riddled with fouls, Brown’s clean play early on was imperative in keeping Michigan’s frontcourt afloat. While he finished the game with four fouls, three of them occurred in the final 6:30 minutes. Contrastingly, sophomore Courtney Sims had three hacks in the first half, which limited his time on the floor and his effectiveness on defense. Michigan finished the game with 20 total fouls, and Penn State closely followed suit with 19.
The Nittany Lions had numerous opportunities to overcome the Wolverines, one of which came early in the second frame, when Penn State was up 37-35. Sophomore John Andrews who, despite several minutes on the floor, had not contributed to Michigan’s scoring, sank a jumper, and tied the game. Just as in the matchup against Iowa, Andrews’s free-throw shooting was both significant and impeccable. He hit all four of his foul shots with just under two minutes to go, and, on both occasions, changed the Wolverines’s lead from meager to comfortable.
“I feel the pressure of the situation,” Andrews said. “But just because the situation is familiar to me, there is a certain comfort level that I have.”