To take down the No. 3 team in the country, the Michigan basketball team needed plenty of key plays. The Wolverines got them, and left the Crisler Center late Tuesday night with a 70-67 win and revived championship aspirations.
1. America meets Duncan Robinson
Frequent readers of Five Key Plays know the drill. Redshirt sophomore forward Duncan Robinson hits seemingly-impossible 3-point attempts with seemingly impossible regularity. He had four such makes in the first half alone, prompting broadcaster Dick Vitale to compare the Division III transfer to Jerry West.
More importantly, Robinson’s 12 first-half points kept Michigan’s upset hopes alive.
“He made some big shots,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “We lost him in transition … three of his four looks were open looks, and that’s on our part.
“He’s a pretty special shooter.”
Though he was quieter in the second half, Robinson hit a critical three early in the half to help the Wolverines extend their lead and finished with 17 points, and the early 3-pointers gave Michigan enough cushion to survive a late Maryland push.
While the direct production from Robinson’s three-point stroke is important, the residual effect on the rest of the game is obvious. After Robinson hit a few threes, the Terps knew where he was at all times and started to overplay him. By the second half, Maryland was willing to devote an extra perimeter defender to the task of chasing Robinson around the perimeter, leaving the rest of the floor open for his teammates to create.
2. Irvin provides run-stopping offense
Irvin could have had five key plays by himself. In possibly his best game at Michigan, the junior not only led the game with 22 points, but seemed to create offense when Michigan needed it most. Whether it was a jump shot or by the basket, Irvin was there to end the Wolverines’ scoring droughts and upset doubts.
“Our assistants call him ‘Big Shot,’ ” Beilein said. “We drew up a play for him just to read and he pull up and hit that 3 and that was a really big play for us. He’s doing some things, he’s driving the ball to the basket and staying under control, that was a good night for him — a really good night.”
With LeVert out indefinitely, Michigan has been in desperate need of a player to fill his role. Sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and junior forward Mark Donnal have improved their play, but Irvin looked like the player capable of replacing LeVert in crunch time moving forward.
LeVert is one of the best players in the country at making shot clock shots and creating run-stopping offense, but Irvin showed that he’s up to the task as well. In each of these clips we see Irvin create offense off the bounce with little help when the Wolverine offense had been otherwise stalled.
3) Robinson puts it on the deck
The only shot Robinson attempted from 2-point range, his reverse layup with just over five minutes to go gave the Crisler Center the life it needed to close out the win.
Gone were the Wolverines’ double-digit leads and endless 3-pointers, and Maryland’s bubbling talent was beginning to boil. But with a nice pump fake and a drive to the basket, Robinson kept the Wolverines alive.
“His little baseline drive and finish on the other side is pretty good,” Beilein said. “We all love coaching him. He thanks me every day after practice, every day he thanks me for coaching him, everybody on the staff.”
4) Irvin and Walton take over
Other Wolverines played well, but this was Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton’s night. With the game on the line late in a single possession game, Walton and Irvin scored on three consecutive possessions to push Michigan’s lead and keep the Wolverines in control.
They watched Trey Burke do it on television after they had committed, they watched Nik Stauskas do it while they were next to him in 2013-14 and they’ve watched Caris LeVert do it, but before Tuesday they had never done it on their own in a game this game.
“We talked about this, you know, three or four years ago,” Walton said. “That at one point, it would be this moment where it would just be me and him; our time to do what we came here to do”
All three possessions were classic late-game, run the clock, ball screen offense where John Beilein just asked his most experienced players to get the job done. They did.
“This is that next step for them,” Beilein said. “It was probably forced on too early for them last year they were sophomores, and they had really only played cameo roles freshmen year on a championship team.”
5) Donnal closes it out, Sulaimon misses buzzer-beater
After a few heroic shots by Rasheed Sulaimon, the game was still in the balance before Mark Donnal came to the rescue. Donnal secured a great offensive rebound on a Derrick Walton miss — Donnal is second in Big Ten games in offensive rebounding rate — and Walton made the heads up play to call timeout before Donnal tried to shoot into three Terps or was called for a travel.
Donnal split the free throws — making the front end — and then found himself in the unenviable position of being switched onto Sulaimon — a 48% three-point shooter. While Michigan probably should have never switched this ball screen to begin with, Donnal does a surprisingly good job of contesting Sulaimon’s desperation miss.
“That three goes in at the end or we don’t make the foul shot,” Beilein explained. “It would have been really tough for them because they’re giving everything they can in practice every day.
“This was a big win for us and now we have to carry it over going to Iowa.”