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February 02, 2006 - Image 10

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Thursday
February 2, 2006
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily.com

P OeRIidSigan Bail

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By Scott Bell
Daily Sports Editor
STATE COLLEGE - After deferring to
a red-hot Dion Harris for most of the game,
it was time for senior Daniel Horton to take
center stage.
"You need seniors on the road, and we
certainly needed our senior leader," Michi-
gan coach Tommy Amaker said.
Horton's 3-pointer with 58 seconds remain-
ing ended all hopes of a Penn State comeback.
Following a Travis Parker lay-up that
chipped No. 21 Michigan's lead to three,
Amaker called a play to put the ball in
Horton's hands. Once
the shot clock reached MICMAN 71
10, Horton dished the
ball to forward Graham Brown on the right
wing. Brown gave it to guard Jerret Smith
in the right corner and then set a screen for
Horton, who found himself wide open at
the right wing and drained the 3-pointer to
give Michigan a 69-63 lead.
With the help of Harris's scoring con-
tributions, Horton led Michigan's suc-
cessful attempt to stave off an upset bid
by the host Nittany Lions. The Wolverines
extended their win streak to five games,
prevailing 71-65.
Michigan's win boosts its conference
record to 6-2 (16-3 overall) and allows it to
keep a share of first place in the Big Ten.
"It's a huge, huge win for us," said
senior co-captain Chris Hunter, who
scored seven points. "It was a big state-
ment for us to just come in here and grind
a win out."
The Horton-to-Harris connection was on
display throughout the game. All but two
of Harris's game-high 23 points came from
beyond the arc - and five 3-pointers came
off passes from Horton. Harris's 7-for-11
performance from long range paced Michi-
gan's 12-for-25 team mark.
"We get credit a lot for defense and being
physical a lot, but we know that we also
have a good-shooting team, too," Horton
said. "When they went and showed zone,
we knew we could take advantage of it."
And Michigan needed almost every one
of its threes. The pesky Nittany Lions (2-6,

Blue's close win sends
a powerful message

A

STATE COLLEGE -
he experts called for it.
ESPN analyst Tom Brennan predicted it.
Twice.
The Nittany Lions played like they wanted it.
And after a banner week for the
Wolverines in which they defeated
then No. 11 Michigan State and
then No. 23 Wisconsin and earned a
top-25 ranking, this Michigan team
seemed set up for it - an upset.
Entering last night's contest at the
Bryce Jordan Center, the Wolver-
ines - who were 1-2 on the road in
conference play - needed to make
the statement that they could do,
what was necessary to win Big Ten KE
games on the road.
But excluding junior Dion Harris's WR
11-point first-half effort, Michigan Mon
looked like it wasn't ready for the
increased scrutiny.
The Nittany Lions came out the aggressors from
the opening tip.
They drove to the basket, and the Wolverines
just watched them go by.
Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley found easy
paths to the basket, and the Michigan defenders
were always a step slower.
Playing an extended 2-3 zone, the Nittany Lions
held Michigan to four points in the first five min-
utes. The Wolverines couldn't find an open look
and lacked any offensive flow, while Penn State
hustled after the loose balls. The Nittany Lions
grabbed 10 defensive rebounds and held the Wol-
verines to just four boards on the offensive glass.
And five minutes into the game, it looked like
the dreaded "upset" would strike sooner than
Michigan would have liked.
But then the Wolverines woke up.
Coming out of the first media timeout, Michigan
turned up the intensity to match that of the Nittany
Lions, and it regained the form of a team ranked
21st in the nation.
The Wolverines pushed the ball. They prevented
Penn State from setting up in its zone and slowing
down the pace of the game. By looking upcourt,
Michigan quickly tired out a Nittany Lions team
that goes just seven players deep.
Possession after possession, the Wolverines
grabbed a defensive rebound, made an outlet
pass to Daniel Horton and converted a wide
open 3-pointer, courtesy of Ron Coleman or
Harris. Those open looks helped to establish a
little breathing room for the Wolverines, with
Harris hitting clutch shots late in the half to

V
2I
oa

maintain the Michigan lead.
After having early success in the paint, the Nit-
tany Lions couldn't find the easy lay-ups in the
lane that had been there at the game's outset. The
Michigan players stepped in and contested shots.
When Chris Hunter entered the
game four minutes in, he brought
defensive effort that sparked the
Wolverines. On Penn State's first pos-
session with Hunter on the court, Tra-
vis Parker turned to loft a hook shot
toward the basket. Hunter rose and
swatted it out of bounds.
With all the hype surrounding
this Michigan squad, the Wolverines
needed to make a statement.
Following a 2-0 week against a
SIN pair of top-25 teams, whispers spread
GHT about the chance that this team had to
tone hoist the first conference champion-
ship banner to Crisler Arena's rafters
since 1986.
But in the impressive Big Ten, the Wolverines
had to show that they could play like a champi-
onship team away from Crisler's accommodat-
ing atmosphere.
Early last night, I thought this team wasn't ready
to make that step.
At halftime, the Wolverines held just a two-
point lead, and Harris was the lone Michigan
player in double figures. Penn State was hang-
ing with a team that was more talented, deeper
and taller.
But give Michigan credit.
The start wasn't what the Wolverines envisioned
when they stepped onto the court for the pregame
shoot-around. And neither was the finish. But no
matter how you rate the quality of Michigan's play,
the fact rerains that the team survived.
It didn't roll over when Penn State jumped ahead
early. Instead, it adjusted.
Last night, the Nittany Lions had a chance
to knock off the Wolverines and put a damper
on their Big Ten title hopes. Before the game,
the 6,509 fans in the arena believed in the pos-
sibility that, 40 minutes later, Penn State would
walk off the court with a monumental victory.
In a Big Ten with the top as crowded as it is,
the Wolverines just need to survive and pull out
wins, at home and on the road.
With the win last night, the Wolverines ignored
Tom Brennan's prediction, overcame Penn State's
grit and kept their Big Ten title hopes alive.

0

JEREMY CHO/Daily
Guard Daniel Horton's unselfish play resulted In 12 assists and a 71-65 win over Penn State.

10-9) refused to die. Time after time, they
got second-chance points against a taller
Michigan team. Penn State used 17 offensive
rebounds to propel it to a 17-2 advantage in
second-chance points.
"I was disappointed, but I wasn't neces-
sarily surprised," Amaker said. "We felt like
it was going to be tough for us. Just because
they're undersized doesn't mean we're going
to have an advantage because of our height.
They could jump twice sometimes before we
could jump once ... they were very quick."
Michigan struggled to handle Penn
State's front line throughout the first half.
Despite standing 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6
respectively, sophomore Geary Claxton
and freshman Jamelle Cornley consistently
had their way with the Wolverines. The two
combined for 21 points and helped keep the
halftime deficit to two.
But Amaker's switch from man-to-man to
a matchup zone seemed to confuse Claxton

and Cornley, and they managed just 12 points
in the final stanza.
Horton finished the game with 13 points
to go along with his 12 assists - even
though he later claimed that he thought he
had at least 15 helpers.
"(Horton) was a catalyst for us," Amak-
er said. "He was jetting the ball and was
so unselfish."
Despite facing early foul trouble, Horton
stayed in the game and helped jumpstart a
Michigan fast-break attack that outscored
Penn State, 23-5.
"Once we got the ball upcourt, we were
able to tire them out," said sophomore Ron
Coleman, who scored 10 points.
Horton agreed.
"We feel like every game we want to push
the ball and wear teams down with our depth,"
Horton said. "It happened ... today we were
able to wear them down with how much we
would run."

- Kevin Wright can be reached
at kpwr@umich.edu.

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