In a season that has not exactly started off on the right foot for the Big Ten, Michigan did its part tonight in helping the conference along in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge by knocking off North Carolina State by a 66-59 margin in Raleigh.
After a slow, turnover-riddled start against the Wolfpack in which the Wolverines managed only one made bucket in the first eight minutes of game time, John Beilein looked to his bench to get things going. And they did just that.
Trailing 11-7 nearly halfway through the first half, Michigan needed a spark, which newcomers Moritz Wagner and Duncan Robinson ably provided. Robinson, sporting a jumper that’s as quick and clean as ever, swished a triple to cut the lead to one with 10:15 to go in the opening stanza, while Zak Irvin followed suit with a nifty layup to put Michigan ahead by one, then assisted Wagner on another layup to re-take the lead.
Wagner followed that up with a beautiful pass-fake, split-the-defense dunk and Robinson put in his second three of the evening shortly thereafter to give the Wolverines a 21-18 lead, which they would not relinquish.
Robinson would go on to pour in 17 points on five triples and a mid-range jumper, while senior stalwart Caris LeVert led the team with 18 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists on a bevy of nifty dribble-drives and passes that we’ve come to expect from him in his final season.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the victory came with a tinge of pain, as Derrick Walton went down late in the first half with what appeared to be a lower left leg injury and did not return for the remainder of the evening.
Still, this is a very welcome win, a win that perhaps seemed highly unlikely after Michigan got run out of the gym in consecutive losses against Xavier and Connecticut in the last couple weeks. North Carolina State, which returned a few starters from last season’s surprise Sweet 16 squad, has also started slow this year, with early losses to William and Mary and Arizona State.
But make no mistake about it: this was a very encouraging performance from a short-handed Michigan team, a win that will certainly boost their RPI (road wins count more than home or neutral court wins) and give them their second straight semi-quality, non-home non-conference victory after they downed Texas to close out the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday. The Longhorns sit within the top 50 on kenpom.com while NC State is just outside at 65.
As promised earlier this year, John Beilein has begun to significantly cut down on the rotation. At this point, it’s very clear that the five spot is a two-man platoon with Ricky Doyle and Wagner going forward while Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will command the most minutes off the bench at the guard and wing spots. Depending on the severity of Walton’s injury and the length of Spike Albrecht’s recently announced recovery period, Rahk could be in for a major uptick in minutes, and while he’s not a big-time scorer, he’s one of the better defenders on this team and one of the few players that displays strong confidence in driving to the hoop. Robinson, for his part, looks to be more Jon Diebler than Matt Vogrich early on – he didn’t even hit the rim on his first three treys tonight and is now shooting an absurd 60.6 percent from deep through seven games in Division I, with three nights of at least 14 points.
Also encouraging tonight was the resiliency that the Wolverines displayed midway through the second half when the Wolfpack looked primed to turn a double-digit deficit into a lead of their own with a 12-1 run that took a comfortable 45-30 Michigan advantage down to 46-42 in just over four minutes of action.
Irvin once again came through in the clutch, however, with a beautiful assist to Doyle for an uncontested layup and a corner three – his first and only made three of the night (1-of-6) – to bring Michigan’s lead back to 10 on an otherwise tough shooting night for the junior. Robinson also sandwiched five points in that 10-4 spurt.
Caris LeVert would go on to ice the game away late with six straight made free throws.
NC State was paced by sophomore Caleb Martin’s game-high 19 points and 16 from lightning-quick junior Cat Barber, who made an array of tough midrange jumpers. Star sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu was limited to just two points – only the second time he’s failed to reach double-digits this season – on an 0-of-6 mark from the floor despite averaging 12 points per game heading into tonight.
The Wolverines will now travel back to Ann Arbor for their first home game in two weeks this Saturday against a hapless Houston Baptist squad. Derrick Walton’s status is perilously in question – Michigan fans are hoping it is not a recurrence of last season’s foot injuries – but the rest of the team looks to be taking strides in the right direction. And that’s something many teams are not able to say.
• Moritz Wagner is quickly becoming Michigan’s best option at center despite an insistence from John Beilein before the season that the young German was destined for the four and had a lot of learning left to do. Ricky Doyle once again got the start this evening, but his play does not seem to have evolved from last year, and his hands appear to be getting more slippery by the minute. Wagner once again displayed the all-around skillset that makes his potential so high with a pair of nice finishes around the hoop, a couple of solid defensive plays, and a near coast-to-coast take on a rebound. His turnaround, defender-splitting dribble-drive-to-dunk finish was the highlight of the night. D.J. Wilson dropped out of the rotation this evening with only one minute of playing time while Mark Donnal did not see the floor. On the wing, Kameron Chatman’s playing time appears to be diminishing, as he saw only five minutes of time along with Spike Albrecht, who is now being limited in practice and games while continuing to recover from a pair of off-season hip surgeries.
• North Carolina State easily won the rebounding battle, grabbing 13 of 43 available offensive rebounds (30.2% OReb) while dominating the defensive glass – Michigan was only able to get two second chances for a measly 8% OReb rate (2 of 25). Beilein has never stressed crashing the offensive glass in order to better limit easy fast break points and run outs, but he certainly will not like this continuing disparity. During the Wolfpack’s second half run, a number of their offensive rebounds saw two NC State players closer to the ball than any Wolverine. Michigan will continue to work on limiting those second chance points for their opponents, but I don’t see them being one of the better defensive rebounding teams during conference season with another guard-oriented offense that almost never has more than one guy over 6-foot-7 on the court at a time. The Wolverines were able to make up for that disparity by connecting on five more shots despite taking 10 fewer attempts (50% to 32.8% from the floor).
|Michigan’s Three Stars|
18 points (3-of-6 2pt, 1-of-4 3pt, 9-of-10 FT), nine rebounds, seven assists, one block, two turnovers in 37 minutes
17 points (1-of-1 2pt, 5-of-7 3pt), three rebounds, one steal, zero turnovers in 23 minutes
8 points (4-of-6 2pt, 0-of-1 3pt), two rebounds (one offensive), two turnovers in 23 minutes
Season Three-Stars Standings
|Caris LeVert – 7|
|Duncan Robinson – 6|
|Derrick Walton – 3|
|Spike Albrecht – 1|
|Moritz Wagner – 1|
|Final Game Stats|
|10||Derrick Walton Jr.*||1-1||0-0||2-2||0||2||2||0||4||2||2||0||1||13|