hoops game recaps
Derrick Walton had taken nine shots. None of them had gone in. With Michigan improbably within three points in the waning minutes against Purdue, however, he crossed over PJ Thompson and charged into the paint, laying his first bucket in off the glass as AJ Hammons knocked him to the floor.
While Walton missed his chance to tie the game at the line, he more than redeemed himself, pulling down two signature high-flying defensive rebounds and making 4/4 free throws in the final 15 seconds to seal the victory.
On the afternoon Caris LeVert finally returned to the court, only to play 11 scoreless first-half minutes before sitting out the second half, Zak Irvin also played out a redemption tale. Coming off an ugly 1/8 performance against Minnesota, Irvin went 2/7 in the first half and had his first shot of the second swatted by Hammons. Then he heated up from the outside and turned around his battle with burly Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half, including the winning points on a pull-up from the free-throw line with 1:09 remaining that barely crested over Hammons' fingertips.
Despite inconsistent performances from their stars, foul trouble for Mark Donnal, and Rapheal Davis once again eliminating Duncan Robinson (4 points, 0/1 3P) from the offense, Michigan found a way to win. To earn it, they had to lean on defense and rebounding.
Against the best rebounding team in the conference on both ends of the floor, Michigan won the battle of the boards, pulling down 28% of their misses to Purdue's 20%. While Swanigan (14 points, 6/9 FG) proved tough to handle, the bigs collectively slowed the two-headed center monster of Hammons and Isaac Haas (combined 21 points on 24 shots) with help from timely double-teams by the guards.
That's how Michigan could go 5/20 from three and still beat a team that presents major matchup issues. Purdue went 6/12 from beyond the arc but only 15/41 within it, and the second chances they normally rely upon weren't available very often. Days removed from one of the most demoralizing weeks in recent memory, Michigan is 9-4 in the Big Ten, all alone in fourth place and needing only two wins in their final five games—which includes a home matchup against Northwestern—to feel very good about their NCAA Tournament chances.
Perhaps—just perhaps—we were too quick to bury a John Beilein team. It wouldn't be the first time.
After cruising for most of the game, Michigan found themselves against the ropes, up only five in the final minute on the road with the momentum suddenly on the side of host Minnesota.
Derrick Walton had the ball poked away from behind and Carlos Morris looked to cut the lead further with a 2-on-1 the other way. Out of nowhere, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman poked the ball out from behind, chased it down, and threw it off Nate Mason to retain possession. Walton iced the game at the line and the Wolverines escaped Minneapolis with a much-needed win.
Aside from that shaky moment late, Walton was masterful, scoring a career-high 26 points on 9/15 FG with eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. He had a hand in 15 of Michigan's 19 points over the final 5:50 of the first half, which culminated in a Rucker-caliber Walton crossover and three in the face of Joey King at the buzzer to give the Wolverines a 14-point lead.
Walton picked up where he left off early in the second half, and he started getting help from Abdur-Rahkman (16 points on a perfect 5-5 night from the field) and Duncan Robinson (14 points, 4/7 3P, career-high 8 rebounds). Michigan's lead reached as many as 19 points and stayed in double-digits until Nate Mason hit a one-handed runner while falling out of bounds with 5:46 to play.
Michigan found themselves unable to keep the Gophers guards out of the paint. Dupree McBrayer bulled his way to the hoop to earn two straight trips to the line. Walton tipped a potential defensive rebound back to Minnesota and Mason nailed a pull-up. A Robinson triple only temporarily stemmed the tide as McBrayer, Mason, and Morris answered with consecutive layups to cut the margin to two.
Then Rahk saved the day, first by putting his shoulder into Morris on a baseline drive for a tough and-one layup, then by cleaning up after Walton on Michigan's next possession. In the process, he may have saved the team's NCAA Tournament hopes.
That felt all too familiar.
For the second straight game, Michigan got run off their home court in a contest far uglier than even the lopsided final score would indicate. Within ten seconds of the opening tipoff, MSU guard Bryn Forbes drilled a three-pointer. He'd sink seven more before taking a seat; taking an early seat due to the blowout was the only thing preventing him from tying and likely breaking the Crisler single-game record of nine made three-pointers.
With Denzel Valentine and Eron Harris chipping in, State sunk ten of their 14 first-half 3PA; Michigan couldn't stick with shooters whether in man or zone, allowing MSU to pick them apart with impressive passing. The Wolverines simply had no answer on the other end, making 4/16 first-half 3PA—3/6 for Derrick Walton, 1/10 for everyone else—and tallying only four assists to MSU's 11 in the opening stanza.
Matters didn't improve in the second half. Apparently tired of lighting Michigan up from the outside, MSU's first four second-half buckets came in the paint, including a demoralizing steal-and-slam by Matt Costello, who also embarrassed Mark Donnal with a subsequent spin move and reverse dunk on a post-up. The Spartans lead ballooned to as many as 30 points with 2:48 to play, at which point they were on pace for the best single-game eFG% mark of any team in the country this season; only a solid showing by Michigan's garbage-time unit made the score look half-respectable, and a series of missed shots by benchwarmers brought MSU's eFG% down to a mere 78.0%.
For the second straight game, Michigan displayed little ability to get anything going towards the basket, and they couldn't free up shooters as a result; Duncan Robinson finished with two points and missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. Zak Irvin did his best to keep Michigan within reach, scoring 19 on 16 shots, but he didn't get close to enough help from the supporting cast on either end. Aubrey Dawkins chipped in 14 points, but 12 of those came in the second half after the game was well in hand.
Michigan gets a badly needed chance to regroup Wednesday at Minnesota, which is still winless in the Big Ten, and they'll need to figure out what's wrong in a hurry; a rough final seven-game stretch starts next Saturday when the Wolverines host Purdue.
This was nearly the entire recap. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
I can't fully capture the noise this fan made. A guttural wail, as if Chewbacca had been stabbed in the heart, or a baby elephant had suffered a collapsed lung. It was the sound of a soul forcefully leaving a man's body.
Michigan had a 10:29 scoreless drought in this game, Indiana went on a 28-0 run, and that noise emanated from the seats behind press row. Let's try this sports thing again tomorrow.
When the threes aren't falling for Michigan, they're usually in deep trouble.
Today, however, that was not the case. The Wolverines hit six triples on 20 attempts, tying a season-low set way back in the opener against Northern Michigan, and yet they controlled the proceedings against Penn State while posting an impressive 1.20 points per possession.
The progression made across the board in Caris LeVert's absence was apparent. Michigan went 19/35 on two-pointers and 23/31 from the line, successfully going at the interior of Penn State's defense time and again. Nobody did it better than Zak Irvin, who attacked from the jump, scoring a team-high 20 points—whenever PSU switched a high screen, Irvin drove to the bucket and got results. As a bonus, he drilled a corner three to beat the first-half buzzer.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had a lot of success off the dribble, working his way to the point for 15 points. Derrick Walton played the role of distributor with Irvin focused on scoring; he put up a 13-10-7 stat line, and when PSU threatened to make it a game late, he had six points and a gorgeous assist to Rahkman in the final four minutes and change to put it away. Mark Donnal added ten points on 2/4 FG and 6/8 FT with four offensive boards.
Foul trouble limited Duncan Robinson to 27 minutes and after an early triple he couldn't find the mark from deep again, finishing 1/5 from beyond the arc. That would normally spell doom for Michigan in another game without Caris LeVert, but Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark off the bench again with seven points, two steals, and an assist.
A month ago, under these circumstances, Michigan probably loses this game. The emergence of an effective ball-screen game keyed by Irvin and Donnal has changed the complexion of the offense, however, and that's allowed Michigan to be productive even in games when one or two of their main scorers aren't hitting their outside shots—today, Robinson and Walton combined to go 2/9 from three, yet the offense still hummed along.
Michigan will still need more of those shots to fall in marquee games against Michigan State and Indiana this week. For today, though, they managed just fine as a team working from the inside out. Remarkably, even though LeVert hasn't played a minute in 2016, the Wolverines are momentarily just a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten.
Video: Rutgers player doesn't realize it's a one-and-one, throws live ball out of bounds for a turnover: pic.twitter.com/RZpFzUNr6n
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 28, 2016
You need to know four things about this game:
1. Michigan couldn't hit a shot. They dug an early hole after starting 0/5 from the field and finished the first half 6/18 from three. The outside shots started falling in the second half, but the Wolverines still finished only 20/49 from the field—not for lack of open looks, but much like the Minnesota game, they missed a lot of shots they'd normally make.
2. Mark Donnal sparked the run Michigan needed. With Michigan losing by three with 5:30 left in the first half, Donnal stuffed a shot by Jonathan Laurent, assisted Aubrey Dawkins for a three on the other end, took a charge, drew a foul and hit both free throws, then took another charge. After that sequence, Zak Irvin hit a three, and Michigan suddenly had an eight-point lead. Rutgers couldn't pull closer than five points for the duration.
3. With 1:30 left in a ten-point game, Rutgers committed a shot-clock violation. That is not ideal.
4. On the next Michigan possession, Irvin missed the front end of a one-and-one, Rutgers center Greg Lewis rebounded the miss... and passed the ball to the official standing out of bounds. It took a while, but we hit peak Rutgers.
Duncan Robinson (18 points, 4/9 3P) and Aubrey Dawkins (11 points, 3/4 3P, one spectacular missed dunk) were the two players who found any consistency with their shot. Zak Irvin went 2/8 from the field but hauled in 12 boards and dished out eight assists.
This was Minnesota 2.0: Michigan proved fortunate to play a bad team when they had an off night. Because that team was Rutgers, they won by double-digits anyway.