Michigan outlasts Minnesota in Big Ten opener
Zak Irvin scored 15 points on five 3-pointers for the Wolverines (9-4, 1-0 Big Ten), who lost Glenn Robinson III to an apparent right leg injury early in the second half. Michigan is already down Mitch McGary, who is out indefinitely with a back injury.
Elliott Eliason had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota (11-3, 0-1). Andre Hollins had 12 points and five boards and the Golden Gophers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. But they missed six free throws and Austin Hollins missed eight of his nine shots.
With Robinson out, Horford's toughness inside lifted the Wolverines in a tense final five minutes. His dunk in traffic with 1:54 to play that gave Michigan a 57-54 lead.
Malik Smith hit a 3-pointer with 27.3 seconds to play that cut the deficit to 60-57 and his three free throws made it 61-60 Michigan with 5.6 seconds to play. But Nik Stauskas hit a pair of free throws and Dre Mathieu's 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
Stauskas had 14 points and seven assists and Horford made six of his eight shots for Michigan.
The Wolverines are coming off a Final Four appearance, and Robinson and McGary both came back looking for more. But McGary announced that he would have back surgery just before the new year, leaving a big hole in the paint that only got bigger in the second half.
Robinson rose up and emphatically swatted a layup attempt from Mathieu, but appeared to come down awkwardly on his right leg. He hobbled around for two more possessions, but had to leave the game and walk gingerly to the locker room for further examination.
Without the super-athletic Robinson prowling the paint, Eliason went to work.
He scored the first six points of the second half for Minnesota and created second chance after second chance with some dogged offensive rebounding. His layup gave Minnesota a 36-30 lead four minutes into the second half, but Michigan charged back.
Walton, Jr. hit a 3-pointer and a couple of free throws, Irvin hit another 3 and Jordan Morgan swished a hook shot to put the Wolverines up 40-39.
That set up a thrilling back-and-forth final 12 minutes.
The Gophers led 45-44 on a 3-pointer by Smith, but Horford had a jumper and a putback to give Michigan a 53-49 lead with 4:15 to go.
The Gophers were never able to wrestle the lead back in another disappointing start to conference play.
Once again, the Gophers feasted on a billowy soft nonconference schedule to inflate their win total before the rugged Big Ten began. They lost games to Syracuse and Arkansas at the Maui Invitational and did post solid wins over Florida State and at Richmond before opening their first conference season under new coach Richard Pitino.
There were plenty of good seats available early at Williams Arena, with the early start time, frigid weather and the wariness that comes from seeing the Gophers constantly disappoint in Big Ten play all likely factoring into the equation.
Minnesota turned it over 16 times, three in the final two minutes as they tried to come back.