John Beilein's still got it.
Aside from Derrick Walton, Michigan couldn't hit an outside shot to save their lives against Minnesota, and for most of the game the offense stagnated. With a heavy dose of the 1-3-1 zone down the stretch, however, the Wolverines hung in the game with their defense, ultimately forcing 17 Gopher turnovers.
The master stroke from Beilein, though, came with 38 seconds left, when he called a timeout after a timely Caris LeVert steal with M holding a tenuous two-point lead. The play he drew up couldn't have worked better. Derrick Walton doubled back to take a Ricky Doyle screen, Doyle slipped to the basket unimpeded, and Walton tossed a lob that Doyle threw down with screaming emphasis on top of Minnesota's Maurice Walker. A Crisler Center crowd that spent most of the afternoon library-quiet followed Doyle's lead.
"He was the guy that was making us go," Beilein said of Walton. "Today was all about Derrick Walton." Walton's strong play down the stretch led to Beilein putting the ball in his hands on the game's critical play; with four options, including shooting it himself, it's safe to say Walton rewarded his coach's trust.
The Gophers couldn't recover, and a few Zak Irvin free throws provided the final margin. Despite all their struggles, Michigan now stands at 3-1 in the Big Ten, and just sent Minnesota reeling to 0-4.
While Michigan looked resplendent in their 1989 throwback uniforms, their play was anything but attractive for most of the game. They went 0/8 from three in the first half, allowed the Gophers far too many open looks from the perimeter, and eventually fell behind by as much as nine in the second half.
Then Walton took over in the latter half of the second stanza, scoring five straight points to cut the lead to seven, then throwing a fast break lob to Zak Irvin after crossing up a defender in the backcourt off a Spike Albrecht steal. A few minutes later, Walton gave Michigan the lead with another triple, assisted by a cross-court pass from LeVert, who'd later stretch the margin to five when he drew a foul on a three-point try of his own, then buried every free throw. Shortly after Andre Hollins, who scored a game-high 18 points, answered with a triple, LeVert stole a Hollins pass on the sideline; the fateful timeout ensued, and Doyle drove the final nail into the coffin.
Walton and LeVert each tallied 15 points to lead the Wolverines, though Walton did so in much more efficient fashion; he added five rebounds and three assists, while LeVert came away with four steals, three coming in the second half. Doyle, by far M's best big man on the day, scored 12 on 5/8 FGs, including a pivoting, Olajuwon-esque and-one to key the second-half rally; he also pulled in four offensive rebounds. Zak Irvin, who continued to struggle with his shot, chipped in 12 points. Spike Albrecht (six) and Kam Chatman (two) were the only other Wolverines to score on the day.
Even though Michigan continued to have a hard time getting their shots to fall, they found a way to pull out a tough game against a Minnesota squad whose conference record belies their quality. Active zone defense bailed the Wolverines out time and again down the stretch. Add in a little Beilein clipboard wizardry, and suddenly Michigan is riding back-to-back wins into a showdown in Columbus on Tuesday.