ANN ARBOR - Tommy Amaker's biggest concern this season has been the health of his team.
Injuries have cost Michigan's key players 56 games.
And with starting front-line players Chris Hunter and Brent Petway unable to play last night due to injuries, Amaker was forced to start seldom-used J.C. Mathis in the Wolverines' Big Ten home opener.
Michigan, forced to use its 10th different starting lineup in 16 games, shook off its aches and pains long enough to beat Northwestern 71-61 before 10,449 fans at Crisler Arena.
Junior point guard Daniel Horton, who returned to the lineup three games ago after missing more than a month with a sprained left knee, scored 19 of his season-high 24 in the second half and played a team-high 39 minutes as Michigan (11-5, 2-0) extended its winning streak to five games.
"I just took it upon myself to drive to the basket in the second half," Horton said. "I was able to get open against their pressure and I was able to get up the floor and get a lot of good shots."
Sophomore guard Dion Harris and sophomore center Courtney Sims added 17 points apiece for the Wolverines, including 11 each in the first half as Michigan built a 31-26 advantage.
"I thought our backcourt was pretty efficient when you look at our overall numbers," Amaker said. "Dion was hot for us in the first half and Daniel was making some tremendous shots and drives and 3-pointers in the second half."
Harris was 4-of-8 from the field in the opening half, but hit all three 3-pointers he attempted, while Sims hit 4 of 6 shots and made all three free throws.
Horton, meanwhile, connected on 8 of 13 shots from the field, including 6 of
10 in the second half, despite wearing a knee brace. He made 7 of 8 free throws in the second half as Michigan hit 15 of 18 overall in the final 20 minutes.
Horton also finished with an even 1,000 points for his career.
"I'm only about 80 percent, but I wanted the ball in my hands in the second half," Horton said. "My knee hurt a little bit, but it didn't limit me a whole lot. I was still able to make some plays and shots."
In the three games since Horton returned to the lineup after missing six, he has made 16 of 25 shots, scored 46 points and come up with seven steals.
"It's been very surprising and very timely," Amaker said. "We really needed that kind of effort from him tonight, especially being short a few players."
Michigan, which already has lost junior guard Lester Abram for the season with a shoulder injury, did welcome back junior forward Graham Brown last night.
Brown had missed the last eight games after undergoing hernia surgery on Dec. 7. He had five rebounds in 23 minutes, but that's all the Michigan bench produced, plus one point.
"All of these injuries kind of drag you down," Harris said. "We just can't seem to get the same five guys together two games in a row. It's been tough. We're just trying to hang in there and do the best we can."
Vedran Vukusic scored 22 points for Northwestern (8-7, 1-2), which arrived two hours before tip-off, and more than 24 hours after first attempting to fly out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
Due to a number of mechanical problems and weather delays, the Wildcats ended up flying into Toledo Express Airport, then took a bus to the game.
"It was rough," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.
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