Michigan's Jon Horford edges Mitch McGary for spot start, shines in place of injured Jordan Morgan
So he had a choice: Go with precocious freshman Mitch McGary or rangy sophomore Jon Horford, both of whom have practiced well.
Late Tuesday night, an undecided Beilein asked McGary, "What do you feel about tomorrow? I don't know what to do yet. You both practiced well."
McGary responded, "Coach, I've been coming off the bench for two years. I'm cool with coming off the bench."
The exchange characterizes both Michigan's unselfishness, as well as its depth. Beilein went with it, tabbing Horford for the start shortly before the start of the game, and Horford registered one of the best games of his young, injury plagued career.
He finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting and added seven rebounds in No. 1 Michigan's 68-46 win against Northwestern (12-10, 3-6).
"People need breaks, sometimes, to get an opportunity, and he really performed well," Beilein said. "He has not been healthy in two years, really, and that's not what we envisioned for him.
"But he was huge tonight. He got a couple rebounds that only Jon Horford can get."
Morgan sprained his right ankle in Sunday's win at Illinois and missed just the second start of his career. He hasn't participated in practice this week and his status for Saturday's showdown at No. 3 Indiana (19-2, 7-1) is unknown.
But Michigan (20-1, 7-1) has confidence that, if needed, Horford will be ready for the national stage at Assembly Hall.
"Definitely," freshman wing Glenn Robinson Jr. said. "He's got what it takes to go in there and get the job done."
Horford logged 20 minutes as the starter, but McGary did his part as well in 15 minutes off the bench. The freshman scored six points and matched a career high with 11 rebounds.
Michigan's rotation bigs combined for 16 points and 18 rounds, a respectable tally for any night, and an impressive one considering the top man was out.
"It says a lot about the team," Horford said. "It's always next man up. Jordan was a huge part of our team, huge part of our defense, and we're just going to try to make up for that.
"This is just fun, man. You got guys out there who are going to knock down shots, who are going to distribute the ball, and it's just a lot of fun. Everyone has a role, and I played mine."
Horford has battled injury throughout his career, and sat out several weeks this season after dislocating his knee cap against West Virginia. He has begun to wear a brace, which has helped stabilize the knee, and his conditioning continues to improve as he gets game action.
He didn't learn of his starting assignment until just moments before Michigan tipped off against Northwestern. His contributions were pivotal, though, as especially when the Wolverines came out languid to begin the second half.
Horford scored the team's first five points after intermission, helping to keep Michigan up by at least nine while Northwestern made its best effort for a comeback. He scored all 10 of his points in the half to help the Wolverines coast to the comfortable win.
Those contributions were notable, with Morgan unavailable. Perhaps the only person unimpressed was Horford himself.
"Not at all," Horford said, when asked if he was thrilled by his spot start duty.
Horford may not have been thrilled by his production, but his team was, and it'll be thrilled again if the sophomore plays similarly well with the Big Ten lead on the line Saturday in Bloomington.
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