All it took was one phrase.

“Starting at center, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Edmond, Oklahoma, Ekpe Udoh.”

And with that, everyone in Crisler Arena was up to speed on what the Michigan basketball team had known for days: Courtney Sims would be coming off the bench for Saturday’s matchup with Indiana.

Why the sudden change this late in the season?

“We really wanted our kids to know that the effort that we have to give every game has to be the paramount effort,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought that (the new) lineup was going to give us that.”

The Wolverines’ revamped starting five also featured sophomore point guard Jerret Smith in place of junior forward Ron Coleman. That switch allowed senior Dion Harris, Michigan’s leading scorer, to move back to his natural role at shooting guard. It wasn’t necessarily based on Coleman’s recent play

But inserting Udoh into the lineup for Sims was a direct reflection on the senior’s recent play. There’s no doubt the coaches were less than thrilled with Sims’s four-point, four-rebound and four-turnover performance last Tuesday in a 59-44 loss at Michigan State.

With the new lineups announced, the focus shifted to whether or not Sims would respond in a positive way. It wasn’t the first time Sims has had to sit in what has been an up and down career for the Boston native, but that doesn’t mean the setbacks get easier to swallow.

“People always think (Sims) is going to hang his head down,” senior Brent Petway said. “But I was talking to him all week (to keep him positive).”

Through the first half of Saturday’s game, Sims proved the naysayers correct. In eight minutes of action, the senior scored two points, grabbed one rebound and missed both of his free throw attempts. Though the Wolverines held a 25-18 lead thanks to their stifling defense – Indiana shot less than 27 percent from the field in the opening stanza – it appeared this would be a game Michigan would have to win in spite of its 6-foot-11 center, not because of him.

But whether it was motivation from losing his starting spot or desperation to deliver in a game Michigan had to have, a new Sims took the floor in the second half.

Sims came off the bench three minutes into the half and immediately made an impact with an assist on a Harris 3-pointer. After a brief rest, Sims came back with a bucket and a free throw to keep Michigan atop Indiana, 42-41.

But it was when the senior re-entered the game with seven minutes remaining that the Wolverines got the spark they so desperately needed.

Sims delivered eight crucial points down the stretch, every one of them a blow to the Hoosiers’ comeback bid. Twice Indiana cut Michigan’s lead to one, only to see Sims get two on the other end to keep the Wolverines in control.

And when the Hoosiers finally took their first lead of the game (47-46) with five minutes left, it was Sims who once again answered with a lay-up on a beautiful feed from Smith.

“I just wanted to respond, come off the bench and not sulk,” Sims said. “I knew this was a huge game for us in terms of our Tournament hopes.”

Fueled by his scoring, Sims stood tall on the defensive end as well. Clinging to a three-point lead, he fought for a crucial rebound in traffic with just more than a minute remaining. After getting fouled, he then calmly stepped to the charity stripe and sank both free throws to put the Wolverines up five, and Michigan held on for a much-needed 58-55 victory.

After his disappearing act in the first half, Sims’s second-half numbers – 11 points, four rebounds and zero turnovers in 11 minutes of play – shocked pretty much everyone, including his teammates.

“I was really surprised, because usually he’s not like that when he comes off the bench,” Harris said. “It’s like frustration coming off the bench, and he usually doesn’t have the type of numbers that he had (Saturday).”

With a visit to Illinois looming Wednesday, the new question on everyone’s mind is this: Will Amaker stick with the team’s newfound success?

At Michigan’s practice yesterday, Harris voiced his support of sticking with the new lineup. And after Saturday’s win, who could argue?

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