Even in deflating loss, ‘East Coast’ Abdur-Rahkman shows plenty of promise

Zach Shaw

WEST LAFAYETTE — When Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was first introduced at Mackey Arena on Thursday night, the fans mostly chuckled.

Maybe the Purdue faithful felt the sophomore guard had too many names — “like seven,” as one fan noted — or that his hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania signified a lack of basketball prowess. Maybe they felt that replacing the injured Caris LeVert was a laughable goal for a player averaging just 4.9 points per game.

But in his second start in LeVert’s absence, Abdur-Rahkman turned the jeers into fear. The Wolverines were unable to pull off the upset, but by tallying a game-high 25 points, four rebounds, two assists and no turnovers against one of the nation’s premier defenses, Abdur-Rahkman struck fear not only in the 20th-ranked Boilermakers, but Big Ten opponents everywhere.

“He’s got this ability,” said Michigan coach John Beilein after the game. “I call it the East Coast type of thing where he can get buckets — in the wind, in the rain, outdoor, indoor, crooked rim — He can just find ways to score. He did that today.”

In many ways, Thursday’s game went about as expected. Michigan struggled to create offense without LeVert, its leader in points, rebounds and assists, and Purdue’s stifling defense took over. The Boilermakers totaled seven blocks, five steals and 16 points off turnovers in the 17-point win.

But the nearly-inevitable blowout was put on hold for Abdur-Rahkman. The guard shot 10-of-16 from the field while the rest of the team went just 13-for-45. Using a combination of floating layups, a strong dribble drive and even a couple 3-pointers, the Wolverines’ offense ran through Abdur-Rahkman and the sophomore kept the game to within six with six minutes to go.

“I’m usually left open, so I just try to knock down shots,” Abdur-Rahkman said.

Abdur-Rahkman’s success also came as a surprise in how it happened. Purdue boasts two 7-footers and several players that are much bigger than the 6-foot-4 Abdur-Rahkman, but the guards inability to miss from by the basket — he went 8-for-11 from 2-point range while the rest of the team was 4-for-23 — was a game-changer.

“We were practicing a lot with the pads and things like that,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We were prepared for the length. It was nothing new. It was just like playing in practice.”

The 25-point outburst was a promising sequel to Abdur-Rahkman’s 14-point total against Penn State Saturday. After struggling against contact and length for much of his career, Beilein feels that things are starting to click for Abdur-Rahkman on offense.

“We are making great strides in that area, but he’s probably made the best jump of when it’s game on, he really takes it at you, it’s really good to see,” Beilein said. “From last year, early in the year, anytime there was body contact he wasn’t finishing. He’s doing a great job with that.”

With the improved finish, Abdur-Rahkman became the fourth Michigan player this season to surpass 20 points.

Though the Wolverines still have plenty of moving or unfinished components to their team, Abdur-Rahkman no longer looks like one of them. And after Thursday the fans at Mackey Arena can agree with that.

  • Kenny

    maybe he should stay in the starting line-up even after levert returning. Let Levert and MAAR start together with Zak and Duncan.

    • A2MIKE

      I second this motion.

      • Chillax

        motion granted

  • Slim33

    he has flat our earned alot more playing time regardless of a healthy Caris. the kid gets buckets and is our best defender by far imo.

  • bobohle

    I agree that MAAR needs more minutes when Caris comes back. What I don’t agree with from previous posts is the philosophy of waiting 3yrs or longer for the bigs to develope. We need our bigs to be competitive in the first year or second year at the latest especially when there is no upperclass big experienced in the system when they arrive on campus; while the upper tier teams have one or two every year. Also we will have too many bigs on next years team with caliber to compete at the top tier in question at this point. If you are going to wait on their development the number of recruits coming in need to be staggered, other wise we will be getting what we have had the past two seasons from the 5 spot.

    • Chillax

      easier said than done on the bigs. Look at our history or recruiting recently. We have a high flying shooting offense and we have a tough enough time recruiting those guards. McGary was a godsend and we lost whats his face to Florida. If I had a son who played the 5 I probably wouldn’t send him to michigan since he won’t get the offensive exposure to develop into an NBA player. What Donnal is doing by cutting to the boards getting easy layups is nice, but that’s not going to translate to an NBA player. if you want a guy who is already developed, good luck, because he is more than likely going to a different school.

      • bobohle

        Then I guess we will be settling for middle of pack or worse from now on. Ehh?

        • Chillax

          didn’t say that. Just said easier said than done. Go for it but it’s going to be an uphill battle. And we have the bigs staggered right now. Donnal is the oldest, followed by DJ, then wagner, after that we have Teske. That will cover us for the next 3 years. If they can get an all star recruit go for it, but its going to be an uphill battle
          I honestly believe we had that great recruiting class (mcgary stauksus robinson) was partially from that ESPN 30 for 30 on the fab five. That was the best michigan basketball marketing campaign you could have asked for.

      • Kenny

        Speak of big man’s delayed development, one example is Uthoff. Really take off this year. And Bielfeldt is doing pretty well too.

  • Wayman Britt

    I know if UM losses the next two games the season isn’t over, but they really need to win at least one. UM needs to get at least one win against one of the top three teams, because they will lose one against the teams they are suppose to win (NE, PSU, MN, IL, NW). It always happens one of the bottom tier teams has a good night and beats you.

    This is of course if your goal is to make the dance. If your expectations are the NIT, then beating a top four team is not necessary. I personally thing UM basketball should have expectations to get to the final four every other year.