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hoops game recaps
Derrick Walton came out for warmups, limped around on his injured toe, and exited early to the locker room. He'd emerge in sweats, out for a critical game against Nebraska and their stout defense.
You'd have been excused for assuming the worst at that point. Michigan not only found a way to win, though, they did so comfortably, relying on defense and contributions from players who weren't even expected to see significant minutes when the season started.
The Wolverines stifled the Huskers while switching up defensive schemes regularly; star Terran Petteway was totally off his game, going 1/11 from the field to finish with just seven points. Nebraska started cold and couldn't snap out of it, missing contested shot after contested shot. High scorer Shavon Shields even required 16 shot equivalents to tally his 14 points.
With Walton sidelined, Michigan needed a big performance from Zak Irvin, and he came through not only with his scoring—a team-high 14—but also with career highs in rebounds (12) and assists (3). Irvin's effort on the boards covered for Walton's usual contributions in that regard.
The play of a pair of freshmen was just as encouraging. Aubrey Dawkins had an efficient 13 points on seven shots, hitting three triples and two midrange jumpers off curl cuts that were eerily reminiscent of GRIII's pet shot. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added nine, helping Michigan pull away in the second half with a pair of impressive transition finishes and a tough and-one. His burst to the basket stood out in a season when Michigan has struggled to get to the rim.
Max Bielfeldt continued his recent solid play with a 12-point, nine-rebound performance; four of those boards came on offense as he simply outworked Nebraska's bigs. His performance proved critical as Ricky Doyle had a quiet 14 minutes and Mark Donnal missed the game due to illness.
Michigan's taken lump after lump and yet have somehow pushed through to 6-3 in the Big Ten. Given the circumstances, this may have been the most impressive win so far. With a collection of walk-ons and freshmen supporting Irvin, the Wolverines blew out a Nebraska squad that entered with the second-stingiest defense in the conference.
While expectations have lowered significantly with Caris LeVert out for the year and Walton hobbled, this team has become... fun? Yeah, let's go with fun.
They played their asses off.
Despite Derrick Walton's tying three-pointer in the waning moments of the second half, Michigan couldn't quite pull off a colossal upset against Wisconsin. The ovation from the Crisler Center crowd after the game said it all, though—the fight was well worth the price of admission.
As early as the opening five minutes—in which time Michigan had fallen behind 7-2, their only bucket an implausible Spike Albrecht floater—there were any number of opportunities for the team to pack it in. After all, Albrecht was occasionally defending Wisconsin's superstar seven-footer, Frank Kaminsky, as Michigan frequently switched on defense in a sometimes comical effort to slow him down.
When Wisconsin went on a quick 9-0 run to end the half up seven, it felt like the excitement was over. Ditto when Sam Dekker extended that lead to 11 with an uncontested dunk four minutes into the second, prompting a Michigan timeout. After the Wolverines fought back to tie on a run sparked by the unlikely trio of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Mark Donnal, and Kameron Chatman, the Badgers landed another series of blows, going up by as much as seven and maintaining the edge until the final moments of regulation.
But Michigan never quit. Walton charged to the hoop time and again, absorbing hit after hit to get to the line; he'd finish with 17 points, going 7/8 from the line. Adbur-Rahkman turned in his finest performance in a Michigan uniform, scoring nine (3/4 FG), playing solid defense, and keeping a couple crucial loose balls alive.
Walton took full control at the end of the half. With M down four and 0:31 on the clock, Josh Gasser missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Walton quickly capitalized with a Euro-step layup through contact. After Bronson Koenig split a pair of free throws, Walton sunk two of his own. Koenig went back to the line, this time drilling both with ten seconds remaining.
At first it appeared Aubrey Dawkins would be forced into a heavily contested heave over two defenders; instead, he dropped a nifty pass to Walton as he found an opening and swished home the tying triple. Crisler got as loud as it's been all season.
Kaminsky dominated the overtime session, opening it with an and-one on Ricky Doyle; he'd score eight points in the decisive period. That Michigan made it that far at all, though, felt like a win in and of itself. They've been written off by just about everyone since Caris LeVert went down for the season, but tonight they showed that when they're on their game, they can hang with the very best in the conference.
Caris LeVert is out for the year. Several players were sick. Zak Irvin sat most of the first half with foul trouble. Derrick Walton didn't hit a shot until the game's waning minutes.
Sean Lonergan and Andrew Dakich played—at the same time. Aubrey Dawkins led the team in made field goals—with four. The Wolverines were 8/26 from beyond the arc—and 9/23 inside of it.
Michigan beat Rutgers on the road.
It wasn't aesthetically pleasing. It didn't make a whole lot of sense. It was... kinda fun?
The plucky underdog role suits this team, unburdened from expectations. The missteps are much more understandable, while stuff like "WALK-ON LAYUP OUT OF NOWHERE" provides genuine joy. The offense remained disjointed and relatively ineffective, but there's hope to be found in Aubrey Dawkins scoring an efficient 11 points, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finishing a couple strong drives to the rim, Max Bielfeldt—Max Bielfeldt!—posting 8 and 8. While M didn't shoot the ball well from the outside, they generated a lot of good looks, and the defense—albeit Rutgers-aided tonight—continued to be pleasantly decent.
Losing the lead in the second half felt expected, not disastrous. Then Spike Albrecht scooped in a running layup, Walton drilled back-to-back triples, and Bielfeldt extended the lead with a three moments after he pulled down an offensive rebound. Walton and Irvin iced the game at the line, and just like that, Michigan is 5-2 in the Big Ten.
It's probably not going to last. Wisconsin comes to town on Saturday, and they're easily the best team in the conference. Then again, they lost to Rutgers last week. For tonight, let's celebrate the weird guys, in all their weird glory.
The brick (left) and the Rahk. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
They escaped, at least.
That's about as much as one can say about a two-point win over Northwestern that ended when the Wildcats' leading scorer, freshman Bryant McIntosh, missed an uncontested layup that would've sent the game to overtime.
We'll start with the good. Freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman performed admirably in the stead of Spike Albrecht, who missed the game with an "upper respiratory illness." Rahk accounted for what would ultimately stand as the winning basket, draining a triple from the wing in the final minute to finish with nine points and five rebounds in his first career start.
Caris LeVert, tasked with creating much of the offense on his own, played a strong game in all facets, stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points (albeit on 19 FGA), six rebounds, seven assists, a block, and a steal. While Derrick Walton still struggled inside the arc, he knocked down four triples, grabbed five rebounds, and added three steals. Both handled the ball well, combining for just one turnover; as a team, the Wolverines coughed up the rock just three times.
Michigan even got off to a hot start, hitting their first four three-point attempts and ripping off an 18-0 run that saw them go up 14 with 9:43 to go in the first half.
Now for the bad. Michigan went ice cold to finish the first half, going down a point when Vic Law beat the halftime buzzer, and that carried over into the second; the Wolverines would go 7:08 without a bucket, the seventh time this season they've had a seven-minute drought.
While Zak Irvin knocked down a crucial late three, it was his only basket of the night. He'd finish with six points on 1/5 shooting. Irvin at least had something of an excuse for his shooting woes tonight; he, too, is sick.
Northwestern controlled much of the game due to the interior exploits of Alex Olah, who came within a point of his career high with 22 on 9/12 shooting; he also dominated the glass with five offensive rebounds. Ricky Doyle, suffering from a cold, didn't play at all in the second half after huffing and puffing his way through the first.
In Doyle's place, Mark Donnal had an awful game, going scoreless with one rebound and four fouls in 11 minutes; he looked helpless defending Olah in the post. Max Bielfeldt proved marginally better, posting five points and two boards—all in the second half—in 18 minutes, while Michigan covered his height disadvantage on defense by playing a lot of 1-3-1 zone.
To top it off, John Beilein said after the game that Caris LeVert may have sprained his ankle; he came up limping after the chaotic final play and was seen on crutches afterward. He won't have much time to recover before Michigan heads to Rutgers on Tuesday.
This team sorely needs him. Even with LeVert doing a lot of everything, it took a lot of good fortune for Michigan to squeak by a Big Ten afterthought at home. The road to a postseason bid only gets tougher from here.
File photo, but whatever. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
Shannon Scott pickpocketed Zak Irvin in the backcourt after a lazy crossover. Caris LeVert tossed an inbounds pass directly to an awaiting Buckeye, not even bothering to look at his intended target.
Michigan's top two scorers spent much of the second half on the bench, not because they weren't needed—the Wolverines were, in fact, getting blown out—but because whatever minuscule chance of a win they'd give the team wasn't worth John Beilein not sending a message. This team would've had a hard enough time upsetting the Buckeyes with everything clicking; instead, after some hot shooting from Irvin kept M in it early, sloppy mistake after sloppy mistake compounded the familiar offensive woes that have plagued this team for much of the season.
Lengthy scoring droughts in both halves led to OSU doubling up Michigan early in the second half, and even the final 19-point margin wasn't representative of the gap between the two teams for most of the game. Before M even scored a point in the second half, they trotted out a lineup of Derrick Walton, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins, Kam Chatman, and Max Bielfeldt. It was no longer a contest, but a learning experience.
Let's hope the lesson sticks, because that was hard to watch.
The Penn State student section is rocking. pic.twitter.com/gZuYDPnhbf
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 7, 2015
Michigan and Penn State both entered tonight's game coming off ugly losses in which their respective offenses disappeared. The Bryce Jordan Center crowd was anything but raucous. Both teams' lone offensive creators battled foul trouble throughout.
Surprise! This game was ugly.
The Wolverines overcame 15 turnovers to pull away late thanks to six straight points from Caris LeVert, who led the team with 18 points on 6/8 shooting, and a couple critical buckets from Zak Irvin, who added 17 and a game-high nine boards.
Derrick Walton once again struggled from the field, going just 2/7, though he went 7/7 from the line and made a big impact on the boards; he still didn't look close to healthy, having one seemingly open driving layup blocked when he wasn't able to cover ground and lift like he does at 100%. Michigan got just enough secondary scoring from Ricky Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins, who chipped in eight points apiece, to make up for Walton's scoring struggles and an 0-fer from Spike Albrecht, who started in place of Kam Chatman.
After getting crushed on the boards in the first half, Michigan evened out the rebounding battle in the second, and a late switch to the 1-3-1 zone gave Penn State fits as they were unable to keep pace. While DJ Newbill scored 20 points, he got no help from the PSU frontcourt, and the Nittany Lion offense stalled when Newbill—who often plays wire-to-wire—had to sit six minutes due to foul trouble. A surprising 16-point performance from backup John Johnson wasn't enough to overcome the frontcourt no-show, especially that of forward Brandon Taylor, who went just 1/10 from the field.
The bright spot for Michigan was their shooting—they went 9/15 from beyond the arc, and some nifty second half work from LeVert, Irvin, and Doyle managed to drag their two-point percentage up to 50% after it languished well below that for most of the game.
It wasn't pretty, but a road win is a road win, and this Michigan team will certainly take it.