Graham Brown and Daniel Horton found their names in Saturday’s starting lineup for the 100th time in their Michigan careers. But the four-year Wolverine starters teamed with an unusual cast to tip off Michigan’s regular season finale against Indiana.
Senior Day 2006 represented the first-ever appearance in Michigan’s starting lineup for Amadou Ba and Hayes Grooms. Co-captain Sherrod Harrell started his first game of the season, rounding out the starting five. In all, eight seniors were honored at the game for the Wolverines.
“We just wanted to get off to a good start, get our team going in the right direction and let the other guys get us home,” Harrell said.
The seniors were visibly energized for the opening moments of their last regular-season game in Crisler Arena. After Indiana’s Robert Vaden traveled to open the contest, Horton took a pass from Harrell and drilled a trey. On the ensuing possession, Harrell came away with the steal, setting up an inside bucket for Brown.
With 18:24 to go, Hoosier big man Marco Killingsworth was whistled for walking as he backed down Ba. Then, Michigan’s usual starters – Courtney Sims, Dion Harris and Ron Coleman – checked into the game. But Grooms, Ba and Harrell strutted off the court with their heads held high. In the opening minute and a half, the starting lineup had jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and the sold-out Crisler crowd rewarded them with a standing ovation.
“We knew that it would possibly be our last time, and we tried to leave it out there for however long we were out there,” Harrell said.
Said Brown: “Those guys came out ready to play. They’ve maybe not been getting the most minutes throughout the season but they came out ready to play and gave us something to build off of.”
Saturday’s game was enormously important – a win would have likely locked up an NCAA Tournament berth – but coach Tommy Amaker never considered breaking tradition and going with his normal starting five.
“I had no question about (starting the seniors) whatsoever,” Amaker said. “I’m really glad we did it. They gave us a terrific start.”
Although Senior Day’s emotional boost helped carry Michigan to an early 12-1 lead, it did not last. Indiana regained its composure and stormed back to win 69 to 67. After four years of ups and downs, the Wolverines’ departing seniors left their last regular-season game in Crisler Arena with an all-too-familiar bitter taste.
Turnover Travesty: Michigan’s inability to take care of the ball proved critical in its defeat. The Wolverines committed a season-high 24 turnovers and tied its season low with seven assists. Michigan’s ballhandlers, especially, had major difficulty setting up their teammates for shots. Point guards Horton, Grooms and Jerret Smith combined for zero assists and 11 turnovers. Michigan’s ball movement was so anemic that center Courtney Sims – who averages less than one assist per game – led the team with three assists.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ ballhandlers had major difficulty setting up their teammates for shots.
“The undoing for us was 24 turnovers,” Amaker said. “I think early for us, kids were trying too hard, doing too much.”
Injury Update: Both Lester Abram (ankle) and Chris Hunter (knee) warmed up prior to Saturday’s game. Abram looked limber in warm-ups, and Amaker said the wing wanted to play. But Amaker said he “didn’t feel comfortable” putting Abram in the lineup. There is a good chance Abram will be back for the Big Ten Tournament, but Hunter’s return is less likely.
Notes: Horton went 13-for-13 from the foul line, raising his Big Ten season total to 89-for-91 (97.8 percent) and overall total to 119-for-127 (92.7 percent). He is on pace to set Big Ten records in both categories. . The sell-out was Michigan’s fourth of the season at Crisler Arena.