With the postseason looking less and less likely after each Big Ten game, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team needed a win against Michigan to keep its sinking season afloat.
But the Wolverines and senior guard Daniel Horton punched another hole in the Gophers’ season with their 71-55 win at Williams Arena on Saturday.
“Certainly for our team to get a road conference win is a significant achievement,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Road wins are treasured, and we feel very good about that.”
Horton almost single-handedly earned Michigan its first Big Ten road win.
The senior guard came into the game averaging 15.2 points per game, but dropped in a career-high 32 against Minnesota, hitting six of 10 from three-point range and making an even more impressive 10 of 10 from the charity stripe.
“I was very, very impressed with (his free-throw shooting),” Amaker said. “But I thought it was his swagger more than anything else was the difference for us and the way he played tonight.”
The biggest story for Minnesota was the subpar performance from its star senior.
Guard Vincent Grier had a career-low four points on one-of-eight shooting against Michigan’s zone.
“He’s so good at knifing and slashing,” Amaker said. “I thought that by us playing some zone (it) allowed us to kind of pack it in a little bit, and didn’t allow him some angles and the penetration that… he’s so very good at.”
It was the first time this season, and just the second time in his career at Minnesota that Grier didn’t score in double figures.
“I think for the first time he’s got to get more confidence in what he’s doing and what we’re doing,” coach Dan Monson said. “He looked more frustrated than I’ve seen him and it’s hard when you’re losing. It’s hard when you’re not playing to the ability that you want to play.”
Even with Grier’s off night, the Gophers made it a game for the much of the contest.
Michigan (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, but gave Minnesota plenty of chances to stay in the game.
For every Wolverines run, the Gophers would counter with a run of their own to keep the game close.
Michigan even went 7:34 without a field goal in the first half, but Minnesota scored only 10 points in that span to pull within three, 23-20.
As the two teams headed to the locker rooms, the Gophers were well within striking distance, trailing by just six, 28-22.
But things started to get ugly in the second half.
The Wolverines’ first four scores of the second period were all of the three-point variety, and the Gophers quickly found themselves down by 16, 42-26, with 15:57 remaining in the game.
But one of those plays proved costly for Michigan, as junior forward Lester Abram landed awkwardly on his left ankle when he was fouled on his way to the basket.
Abram didn’t return to the game and while nothing was confirmed, Amaker believed it was an ankle sprain.
Minnesota (9-7, 0-5 Big Ten) did manage to pull within seven, 49-42, with 10:19 remaining, but that was as close as it would get.
Senior forward J’son Stamper led the team by recording his second double-double of the season.
Stamper seemed to find his shooting touch, knocking down six of 10 shots for 12 points, and grabbing 11 rebounds ” five on the offensive end.
“It’s frustrating. We need to try to get over that hump (and) get that first win (in the Big Ten),” Stamper said. “We have to try to put this behind us as much as possible.”
And the loss to Michigan might be indicative of the team’s slow conference start.
“If you’re going to lose, it’s one thing to lose scrapping and clawing like we did against Wisconsin or we did against Iowa,” Monson said. “But to lose like that, where they come into your house and dictate it, is unacceptable.”