Unexpected contributions help Michigan win at Rutgers

Alejandro Zúñiga

At one point in the first half of Tuesday’s road game at Rutgers, Michigan was playing with a lineup of Sean Lonergan, Andrew Dakich, Mark Donnal, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Kameron Chatman.

To reiterate: Three freshmen and two former walk-ons were on the court, together, for the Wolverines in an important Big Ten road game.

And it sure wasn’t pretty, but Michigan’s unknowns made enough contributions in the first half, and veteran players made key buckets in the second to steal a 54-50 win.

And while a victory at Rutgers might not change the season overnight, don’t tell that to coach John Beilein or his “11 strong” who suited up to face the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey.

“Here’s the biggest thing that it does: You have a lot of coach speak. You say, ‘You can win this game. You can win this game.’ I don’t know if anybody looked at any game going forward and said we thought we had a [chance],” Beilein said. “It’s just natural. They’re young, and there’s their leader, he’s down. And you gotta convince them. And now it gives credence to, ‘You can do things. … You can win again.’ ”

The Wolverines dressed 11 players, several of whom weren’t fully healthy. Chatman had tendinitis in his knee but felt well enough to play; still, he only managed eight minutes before Beilein decided the freshman wasn’t able to continue. Doyle is still sick, and he lasted just four minutes in the second half until he told coaches he was gassed.

Derrick Walton was still visibly showing the effects of his turf toe injury while Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin continued to recover from being sick for much of the last week.

What we do know is this: Irvin, Michigan’s No. 2 scorer, picked up a pair of fouls 49 seconds apart within the first four minutes of the game. He sat for the rest of the half. And with Doyle and Chatman significantly impaired, Beilein had to create a competitive team out of a patchwork of freshmen, an undersized center, and two former walk-ons — including Dakich who willingly burned his redshirt for four minutes of playing time.

“As we’ve been transitioning this year and playing 10 guys, everyone knows what they’re doing — some are just better at things than others,” Beilein said. “We had a shortened playbook a little bit, so just try and get through it.”

And somehow it worked: Chatman scored on a tip-in, Abdur-Rahkman cut for a layup, Lonergan added a bucket, Dawkins scored on an athletic putback and Donnal made a three-pointer as Michigan led by two at halftime.

“We just survived it,” Beilein said.

With Irvin back in the second half, Michigan’s substitutions became a little more vanilla. And in the final seven minutes, familiar names made the big plays.

Albrecht hit a left-handed scoop, followed by a pair of three-pointers from Walton and a trey from Bielfeldt. Irvin made a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to seal the result.

“I don’t even know if they believed they could win without Caris,” Beilein said on-air to the Big Ten Network, “but the coaching staff did.”

You might not have thought it possible either. Not with a lineup of Lonergan, Dakich, Donnal, Abdur-Rahkman and Chatman on the floor.

And though Beilein warned Michigan “can get blown out as well” — it will have its hands full over the next two months against much of the Big Ten’s elite — let us not forget how, on Tuesday, that group of bench players, practice-squad members and freshmen went on the road and won the game.

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  • CZGuy99

    players with what it takes inside, stepping up to the challenge

  • A2JD

    I didn’t realize that Lonergan and Dakich were both on scholarship now. Is that just for this year?

    • Indiana_Matt

      That is my guess. Unless I am wrong, all athletic scholarships are year-to-year.

    • I don’t think they are on scholarship.

  • Champswest

    That game had a “Hoosiers” feeling to it.

  • Kenny

    The last 10 minutes of the first half is simply amazing, and shows why JB is one of the most respected coach is college basketball.

  • James

    I like it that Coach Beilein keeps the squad focused on task at hand. I like it that he keeps coaching no matter who is in the lineup. He doesn’t panic. But…I wish he didn’t relish this role:) Maybe thats not fair. But its frustrating that the 2014 class, while solid does not have NBA talent..Doyle and Dawkins will be good college players. Chatman has potential too.

    Folks seem to have taken the M is playing with house money MO for this year. How did M get there..NBA (i.e. success in development) and a whole lot of bad luck. However I could stomach and even enjoy the year some watching the unproven guys develop if I knew help was on the way.

    Check 2015 commitments..Hmm; 2016..Hmm again

    As we’re learning, transformations like Stauskas from year one to two are not the norm. Maybe Irvin is on the Hardaway path..not sure.

    Guys like Burke..players with junkyard dog in the them..don’t show up every year at M. I get mad every time I see that left hand block by Burke against Louisville. I so, so wanted the guys to cash the check for JB .