It’s impressive to build a big lead as a home underdog. It’s more impressive to throw it away, recover, and take it back.
Basketball is a game of runs and great teams have the ability to respond to adversity. Michigan hasn’t done much of that this season. The Wolverines folded down the stretch in West Lafayette and in earlier defeats, but at a similar juncture against No. 3 ranked Maryland, they responded.
It didn’t matter that Michigan had blown its 13-point second half lead or that Diamond Stone was taking over the game. After losing the lead with 6:48 to play, Michigan responded, took the lead back and never gave it back.
The Wolverines might not have seniors or captains right now, both are on the bench injured, but it has juniors. Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal figured out a way as they combined for 42 points, 21 rebounds and seven assists to carry the Wolverines to a statement win.
“They’re so hard to guard,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the loss. “They’re missing their best player and they’re still hard to guard.”
Only North Carolina scored the ball more efficiently against Maryland than Michigan this season, and Michigan’s offense is starting to figure things out — even without LeVert. This isn’t a situation where the offense works noticeably better without LeVert, but in his absence others are starting to step up. After sputtering against Purdue, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin played some terrific basketball and when the threes are falling this team is tough to beat.
Michigan’s offense was naturally very dependent on the three (54% of its field goal attempts were from long range), but the shot was falling early and Maryland plays a style that will allow three-point attempts. Michigan’s starting players at the 1 through 4 combined to shoot 12-of-24 from three-point range that’s usually going to result in a victory. Before criticizing the Wolverines for living by the three, remember that today’s 41% three-point shooting night was actually a couple percentage points below this team’s season-average.
Defensively, Michigan had some rough stretches to go along with several encouraging moments. Derrick Walton was phenomenal defensively against Melo Trimble and the Wolverines also did a good job of keeping Rasheed Sulaimon out of the game until the final few minutes.
There’s just no answer on the Michigan roster for Diamond Stone, Robert Carter or Jake Layman and the Wolverines tried to throw an array of double-teams early on, but at a certain point just bit the bullet and played one-on-one. That move didn’t necessarily work as the three big Terps were 17-of-25 on two-point attempts, but it kept Michigan’s defense more fundamentally sound and was good enough.
Perhaps the best sign that Michigan’s defensive approach worked: only 8 of Maryland’s 26 made field goals were assisted a few days after 87% of Purdue’s makes were assisted last Thursday.
There’s no hiding the fact that Michigan needed this win. It needed something to stand on not just for its postseason resume, but for its confidence. Nobody is quite sure how long Caris LeVert will be sidelined, but this group is proving that it’s more than capable of winning games without him. The Wolverines have a few extra days of rest ahead of a late afternoon Sunday tip-off in Iowa City on Sunday.
- Zak Irvin: This was the best game that Irvin has played since last year. He had some matchup advantages as a ball handler against bigger players for the second straight game, but this time he made it count. I cringe when he shoots a few too many mid-range jumpers, but they were falling tonight: 22 points on 8-of-14 (3-7 3pt) shooting with three assists and two steals for the evening. Irvin is a different player when he’s playing with confidence and he’s had everything working in his last two games at home.
- Derrick Walton: Walton wasn’t perfect or mistake free, but he played his ass off on both sides and carried Michigan to the win down the stretch. A 12 point, 10 rebound double-double while locking down an All-American point guard and hitting the crucial shots in the second half is a solid day at the office for any point guard. Walton’s two-point shooting struggles continued (1-7 inside the arc), but the three ball was a great equalizer and he also had a few timely assists. One play from Walton’s night that shouldn’t go overlooked: his heads up timeout when Mark Donnal was trapped under the hoop with :15 seconds to play.
- Duncan Robinson: There are run-buster and run-builders, right now Robinson is the latter. When he strings a couple made three-pointers together he can start a team run because the opposition becomes hyper-aware of his positioning on the court. Watch any Michigan run and you’ll start to see players late to help because of Robinson’s shooting threat. 17 points on 5-of-9 three-point shooting for the night, but it was his two-point reverse layup late in the half that might have been most important. Michigan probably needs to do a better job of getting him involved when the opposition face guards him, but either way he’s a game changer.
- Mark Donnal: A few weeks ago there were legitimate questions about whether Mark Donnal even had a role on Michigan’s roster. Now he’s the best big man on the roster by a wide margin and is making decisive plays late against a top-five opponent. Donnal had 8 points, 9 rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes. He rebounded Derrick Walton’s miss, hit a free throw late and even defended Rasheed Sulaimon’s potential-tying three on the pick-and-roll switch.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman isn’t going to go for 20 every night, but he played productive minutes and hit shots when Michigan needed. He also recorded a season-high four assists in the win.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins has settled into his role off the bench very nicely. His confidence is rising and he had a great finish in transition on a nice look from Walton and a critical driving layup in the second half. He’s attacking the basket and looks more comfortable, even defensively, in his niche as a sixth man.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson appears to be the second big man off the bench now, but he had a rough stretch in the second half. He’s a bit too quick to go to the three (two attempts in five minutes), had a bad turnover and was pushed around by Diamond Stone under the hoop — not that that makes him unique. Michigan is going to need Wilson, who has shown some flashes of late, but he didn’t seem ready for the stage in the close second half.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle’s slide continued as he recorded two fouls in two minutes and failed to get on the stat sheet otherwise.
- Andrew Dakich: Dakich has given Michigan a spark in other games, but tonight his role was to give Walton two minutes on the bench in the first half so he could go the whole 20 in the second.