STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—Dion Harris got into a sweet-shooting rhythm.
Here was his routine against Penn State: catch a pass, square up to shoot behind the 3-point line, then turn to his bench with his arms outstretched in the air after the ball swished through the net.
Harris scored a game-high 23 points and shot 7-of-11 from 3-point range, and Daniel Horton had 13 points and a career-high 12 assists as No. 21 Michigan staved off a late rally to beat the Nittany Lions 71-65 on Wednesday night.
“He was a catalyst for us,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said about Harris. “We were fortunate that he was feeling it to shoot such a high percentage.”
While Harris’ stroke helped Michigan (16-3, 6-2 Big Ten) build an 11-point second-half lead, it was Horton’s play that helped the Wolverines survive a late 10-2 Penn State run.
Mike Walker’s 3-pointer and Travis Parker’s layup got the Nittany Lions (10-9, 2-6) to within 66-63 with about 1:30 remaining, riling up a crowd hoping to see an upset.
But Horton, playing with four fouls late, hit a 3, then drained two key free throws with 17 seconds left that gave Michigan a 71-65 lead and sent Penn State fans to the exits.
“When (Horton) hit that last 3, I think as soon as it left his hands, we were all praying it wouldn’t go in,” said Penn State forward Jamelle Cornley, who had 16 points. “We can’t find that break right now and it’s very frustrating.”
It doesn’t get easier for the rebuilding Nittany Lions, who must travel to No. 6 Illinois on Saturday. Penn State is in the middle of a tough stretch of five straight games against ranked opponents.
Michigan won its fifth straight, a streak that propelled them into the Top 25 earlier this week. It is the Wolverines’ first appearance in the poll since the end of 1997-98 season, which was also the last time they were in the NCAA tournament.
For awhile, Michigan couldn’t miss from 3-point land. They had one stretch when eight of 10 buckets were 3-pointers, including five straight from long range.
Harris provided the spark.
The 6-foot-3 guard sandwiched a couple 3-pointers around a 3 and dunk from Ron Coleman to help Michigan extend a two-point halftime lead to 44-35 early in the second half.
Penn State closed to within 47-44 after a couple of jump shots by 6-foot-10 freshman center Milos Bogetic, a fan favorite, and a short turnaround jumper by the energetic Cornley.
Cornley, who looks shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-6, and 6-foot-5 teammate Geary Claxton are often undersized against opposing frontlines, as was the case against Michigan. Still they each grabbed three offensive rebounds, and Penn State overall had a 17-9 advantage on the offensive glass to help keep them in the game.
“It was a gritty effort by them,” Amaker said. “I can’t say enough about their tenacity on their glass.”
But Amaker had Harris and his team beat Penn State in transition. Two Harris 3-pointers and a Graham Brown tip-in of a missed fast-break layup helped Michigan increase their lead to 61-49 with six minutes to go.
Michigan held a 23-5 edge in points off the break.
Though they’ve won just two Big Ten games so far this season, Penn State has played more competitively against conference foes than in recent years, at least at home.
Claxton, who had 17 points, and Cornley, who was the top freshman scorer and rebounder in the Big Ten coming into the game, have been a big reason why.
Cornley gave Penn State coach Ed DeChellis a brief scare when he fell to the floor grabbing his left knee late in the game. Cornley returned, and DeChellis later said that his forward had sprained a ligament, but the injury was not serious.
Penn State had a season-low eight turnovers in the loss. DeChellis said his team has made some progress this year, but he wasn’t looking forward to getting ready for the Illini.
“I’m going to have to figure that out all night,” he said.
Harris got Michigan going with his outside shooting late in the first half. After Cornley hit a one-handed jumper in the lane over two defenders, Harris’ 3 helped give Michigan a 33-31 lead at halftime.
Amaker said his squad did a “horrendous job of finishing around the goal. We didn’t make a lot of layups, but the 3s were going for us.”