Five Key Plays: Penn State at Michigan

Dylan Burkhardt
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Michigan blew out Penn State without Caris LeVert on Saturday thanks to impressive performances by Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal and Zak Irvin. Here’s a look at Five Key Plays from the win.

1. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman breaks the drought

Michigan looked rattled out of the gate against Penn State. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead and Derrick Walton looked like he was trying to put the team on his back, turning the ball over and getting his shot blocked. Michigan failed to score in its first five possessions.

That 7-nothing it didn’t look good to start did it?” Beilein quipped after the game. “We were obviously missing a very important player, but Muhammad hit a tough three which was followed by Duncan with a tough three and all of the sudden 7-6 is alright.”

Abdur-Rahkman has been the weak link in terms of perimeter shooting on this team, but quietly he’s emerged as a legitimate threat. He’s made 7 of his last 13 attempts after starting the season just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.

2. Duncan Robinson scores or assists Michigan’s first 15 points

Without Caris LeVert, it was Duncan Robinson that took over the game early on. Robinson assisted Abdur-Rahkman’s first make and then followed that up with three triples in a row and another assist.

Michigan’s first five made baskets were all triples and Robinson played a critical role in each of them. Robinson only made three triples on the game, the three in a row he hits here, but his shooting threat changed the game. After he started hitting, Penn State had to focus its defense on stopping him and he racked up six assists in the process.

Robinson used his pump fake masterfully in the win, creating space for himself to shoot or to put the ball on the floor for a few dribbles and create passing opportunities.

“I was concerned about Duncan’s assist numbers after about five or six games because he does need to (pass),” Beilein said after the win. “The Stauskases and guys like that, once they could floor the ball and see people that made a big difference for us.”

3. Andrew Dakich provides a spark

Derrick Walton played one of his worst games, turning the ball over six times, and John Beilein had no choice but to go to the bench early on. Without his senior captains Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert, walk-on guard Andrew Dakich was the only option to provide backup minutes.

Dakich didn’t just provide passable minutes, he sparked a run. He didn’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet, but Michigan’s offense started clicking and the crowd was energized from the walk-on point guard’s spark.

“One of the things is his energy that he brings to the team,” Beilein said of Dakich. “He’s a true point guard and he sees the floor really well.”

Michigan outscored Penn State by 18 points in the 13 minutes Dakich was on the floor and the highlight of his night was this dribble-drive and dish to Moritz Wagner for a creative layup.

4. Mark Donnal closes the first half strong

Mark Donnal earned his first start since early November, but found himself on the bench 39 seconds into the game after picking up a cheap foul chasing an offensive rebound.

That mistake earned Donnal a seat on the bench until the final six minutes of the first half. Back on the floor, Donnal picked up where he left off and finished the half with six straight points.

“We’re not throwing the ball to Donnal and saying ‘alright go to work big fella’, he’s playing off of leverage,” Beilein said. “We’ve found out who our team is and trying to put them in schemes that they are comfortable in seeing him.

“You can run a lot of things, but they have to be comfortable. Some of our guys can make certain passes and some can’t, so we scheme to say how can we get this guy in this position and get Mark an easy basket.”

We see a great example of the Michigan coaching staff using Duncan Robinson’s shooting ability to create an open look for Donnal. He builds on the momentum from there with a strong defensive possession and a nice catch-and-finish from Zak Irvin on the pick-and-roll.

On the final basket of the half, Donnal recovers from hedging near mid-court back to the basket and then runs the floor for an easy layup from Duncan Robinson.

5. Michigan stretches lead to 29

Michigan had an emphatic 21-point lead at the half, but yesterday’s Big Ten action proved that no lead is ever safe after Iowa came back from 19 points down to win at Purdue.

“We had enough to start the second half, that was where you worried,” Beilein said. “You come out and you’re up 20 and they can drop it to 14 in no time and then be in this game. We got away from them up to 30 and then didn’t play as well down the stretch.”

After a few sloppy possessions out of the gate in the second half, Michigan put together a decisive 8-0 run to put the game away.

Zak Irvin started the run with a simple spot-up three and then Abdur-Rahkman put a Penn State defender on the ground with a filthy jab-step to knock in an open three. Another vintage Zak Irvin ball screen pass over the top to Mark Donnal capped the run and put the game away.

  • Wayman Britt

    I am very impressed with Duncan’s ability to create assists. He also played some pretty good defense. He is expanding his game and it sure helps the team.

    I just hope Caris can get back to full health, we sure could use him over these next three tough games.

  • mikey_mac

    Scary that LeVert’s injury is to the same leg/foot as last year. Hopefully the lack of walking boot or crutches means it’s a simple low ankle sprain.
    Robinson and MAAR were absolutely great filling in for him, though (competition level notwithstanding).
    Loved seeing Irvin dropping dimes on the PNR like late last year. He’s got a real talent at timing his deliveries around opposing bigs. Thought that would be a bigger bullet in play #5.

  • JimC_UM

    Donnal has good hands and always seemed ready for those PNR passes…glad that the center position is pretty much solved just before this rough stretch!