Derrick Walton, who called a players-only meeting last night, led M's late charge to close out a much-needed win. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
If Michigan's players think John Beilein is the problem, they aren't showing it. Last night, in preparation for today's must-win game against Nebraska, Derrick Walton called a players-only meeting at the team hotel.
"The coaches don't need to say so much," said Walton. "We talked about this last night as a team at the players meeting last night. They make the calls. They make the adjustments. They make the subs. It's on us to make the plays out there."
"As Coach [Beilein] says, there's a point where he can only say so much. It's up to us to make plays and get stops."
The defense may have remained abominable, but with the offense hitting on all cylinders and the team's two seniors coming up big down the stretch, Michigan made just enough plays and got just enough stops to get their second Big Ten win.
Both teams showed little ability to stop the other. Moe Wagner exploited Nebraska's nonexistent pick-and-pop defense to score a career-high 23 points, making four-of-six three-point attempts. When the Huskers finally adjusted to the pick-and-pop, Derrick Walton took over, hitting three second-half three-pointers from virtually the same spot on the floor before icing the game on the line on his way to 20 points. On the other end, Michigan had no answer for Tai Webster, who scored a game-high 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting, operating off the high screen.
Defense: optional. [Campredon]
While the Wolverines never trailed, it was a tight game throughout. Michigan's lone double-digit lead, after a Wagner triple early in the second half, lasted all of one possession. Each time they threatened to blow the game open, Nebraska hit back, usually with a drive from Webster. After a quiet first half, Husker guard Glynn Watson Jr. kept them within striking distance late, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half. With his best half of play since the SMU game, however, Walton—with some help from fellow senior Zak Irvin, who made all seven of his second-half free throws—kept the Huskers at bay.
"That consistency is what we're both trying to get for [Walton]," said Beilein. "That's what he's capable of."
DJ Wilson was the fourth Wolverine in double-figures, needing only seven shots to get his 11 points, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench to hit a couple critical shots. As usual, Michigan took excellent care of the ball, and they forced some timely turnovers that proved to be the difference.
"Going forward, I think, a meeting like that, where you see guys so passionate about wanting to win—[we] really did it justice tonight," said Walton.
"There's only so many games left."
Walton's play in transition late sparked M's comeback. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
It wasn't impressive, or encouraging, or—at least for the first 30 minutes or so—fun, but Michigan pulled their proverbial asses out of the fire with a strong finish against Penn State, closing the game with a 30-15 run to erase a 14-point deficit and steal much-needed conference win.
"Their seniors made plays at the end," said PSU coach Pat Chambers.
"They got the stops when they needed," he added. "That's what senior-led teams do."
"Our seniors, who were not on their 'A' game, were nothing short of spectacular in the last four minutes," John Beilein concurred.
You, Michigan fan, may have cocked an eyebrow at those statements. For tonight, at least, they held true. While they struggled for most of the game, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton both came up big down the stretch. Walton nailed a three to pull Michigan within one, then fed DJ Wilson on a fast break for the go-ahead alley-oop. When PSU's Lamar Stevens grabbed the lead back with a jumper, Irvin answered with his pet midrange shot. Walton extended the lead at the free-throw line, Irvin drilled a tough stepback shot, and the two combined to ice the game at the line, going 6/6 in the waning moments to fend off PSU's comeback effort.
|The game proved frustrating at times for both coaches. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]|
The Wolverines didn't open the game nearly as well as they closed it, of course. This was a boring slog for a half-hour of game time. Penn State got into the paint time and again, while Michigan couldn't do the same or hit their outside shots, going 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half.
"They drove us wherever they wanted to in the first half," said John Beilein. "And we let them."
The second stanza began much the same way; PSU's first two buckets came in the paint before three straight triples extended the lead to 14. The turning point, according to Beilein, came during an emotional huddle at the under-12 media timeout.
"I didn't have to say anything," Beilein said. "It was all, the circle that I was in, they were all extremely charged up and upset at each other. And I'm not meaning pointing fingers [at each other], they were very encouraging, and very strong words that, no, we're not losing this game. We're not starting off in the league 0 and 2. We're going to make this happen."
Duncan Robinson entered the game shortly after that timeout and proceeded to account for a five-point run of his own with two shots to cut the deficit to eight. The Wolverines steadily chipped away at the lead from there, benefiting from some PSU turnovers to get out in transition for easy points. Then the seniors closed it out.
The season can take two forms from here. Michigan can carry the emotion from that huddle over to the rest of the Big Ten schedule and fight their way into the tournament, or they can play the listless brand of basketball we saw for much of this game and settle for an NIT bid. Only time will tell.
Look past the final result and you can see this year's Michigan squad taking shape. Derrick Walton is more off-guard than point guard. Zak Irvin, filling the void, is a point-forward. Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson are the team's two best players. Duncan Robinson's offense has moved him past Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in everything but the starting lineup.
Wilson starred for much of this game, the best of his career thus far. In 44 minutes, he scored 28 points, made 7/10 twos and 4/8 threes, grabbed 14 rebounds (six offensive), dished out six assists to only one turnover, and added a block for good measure. Wagner also looked excellent, scoring 12 points on ten shots while playing disruptive defense that resulted in a block and three steals. This was a glimpse into a pretty exciting future:
Those two will eventually be the go-to players on this team. This afternoon, however, their relative inexperience in those roles showed in overtime. Wagner missed a corner three on Michigan's first overtime possession when it appeared he had an open lane to roll to the basket instead of popping out the perimeter. Wilson badly missed his two three-point attempts in the extra session, including a rushed shot with plenty of time left on M's final possession that bonked off the backboard; while M corralled the rebound, Zak Irvin lost the ball on his game-tying attempt and Wagner's desperate volley from two-point range had no effect on the outcome.
While Michigan had the advantage up front, Iowa's backcourt, especially Peter Jok, held a similar edge. Jok poured in 25 points. Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon outplayed Walton, posting 17 points and six assists with no turnovers and a couple huge shots late in the game. Irvin distributed the ball well in the first half when his shot wasn't falling, then committed a few costly turnovers in the second half and overtime when he finally regained his scoring touch. With Robinson only going 3/9 from beyond the arc and MAAR disappearing entirely, Michigan needed more efficiency from their senior guards.
They didn't quite get enough. Michigan starts 0-1 in Big Ten play, and while they have four very winnable games ahead of them on the schedule, they missed a great chance to tally a rare conference road win this afternoon.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 23, 2016
Derrick Walton's game-sealing three came after Michigan had missed their previous 12 attempts from beyond the arc. Michigan's narrow win over Furman was a 60-possession slog that was hard to watch outside of the two highlights above.
Moe Wagner (18 points on 16 FGA, five offensive boards) and Zak Irvin (16 points on 14 FGA, seven assists) were just effective enough on offense for this game to remain tight throughout even though the Wolverines couldn't buy a long-range jumper. It'd be easy to pin a game this ugly on the dead winter-break atmosphere and players looking ahead to the holidays; this was more Michigan missing a bunch of open looks in a painfully slow-paced game.
The Wolverines now get a significant break before their Big Ten season tips off at Iowa on January 1st. After tonight's game, we could all use some time off from basketball.
For the second straight game, Michigan obliterated a completely overmatched foe. The Wolverines jumped out to a 19-2 lead against Maryland Eastern Shore and didn't let up from there. They led 49-22 at the half with as many three-pointers (8) as the Hawks had field goals. They finished with 28 assists on 32 baskets, led by a career-high ten dishes from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who entered the game within 90 seconds of tipoff after being replaced in the starting lineup by Duncan Robinson. (Update: Beilein said a clerical error caused Robinson's unexpected start.)
Derrick Walton had a near-flawless performance, scoring 21 points on ten shot equivalents with six rebounds, five assists, a steal, and no turnovers. UMES had no answer for DJ Wilson and Moe Wagner, who combined to go 10-for-11 from the field. Xavier Simpson had four assists and three steals. Ibi Watson had two dunks, one off an assist from Sean Lonergan. Former student manager Fred Wright-Jones made a three to send the bench into hysterics.
Michigan has one more non-conference game on Thursday against Furman before Big Ten play begins on New Year's Day at Iowa. While the last two games have been fun, its arrival will be welcome.
Mini-Preview: Central Arkansas
#32 Michigan (7-3) vs
#324 Central Arkansas (1-8)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||9 pm ET, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -23 (KenPom)|
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Jon Crispin
Right: "Hatfield said that reaction was varied. Some said it looked like the college's librarian. Some said it was too fat, too squatty, just plain ugly. Some faculty said the art department was forcing its ideas on the rest of the campus without first checking. Others thought it okay, especially since the bear was holding a book. Hatfield said President Nolen M. Irby 'took it well,' and apparently enough others did as well because the statue stayed. It remained in front of Main for many years, eventually moving to one or two other campus sites before winding up in the football stadium."
I won't waste much of your time previewing Central Arkansas, one of the 30 worst D-I programs in the country this year. Their lone win of the season came against #240 Army; their most impressive performance was either losing by only 12 at #48 Oklahoma State or taking #142 Little Rock to overtime at home. Three starters have ORatings below 100; two rotation backups have ORatings below 70. There are some stats below; they are ugly.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 23.
A single-digit win would be a fiasco.
[Hit THE JUMP for Basketbullets.]