Ann Arbor, MI – Five Wolverines in double figures helped Michigan outlast Syracuse 68-65 in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game. Zak Irvin, a 6’6″ sophomore 2016 NBA Draft prospect, led the way with 18 (12 in the first half) and was aided by possible 2015 NBA Draft lottery prospect, 6’7″ junior guard, Caris Levert, who had 12 points , six assists and the late game preserving FT’s .
The Orange had four players in doubles themselves led by perimeter sharpshooter, Trevor Cooney with 18, aided by the late career emerging senior, Rakeem Christmas with 15 points.
Christmas, a 6-10, 250 pound senior post man wore out three different post defenders in the first half, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 from the floor as he led Syracuse to a 31-29 halftime lead. He finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 FG’s, six rebounds and two blocks. In his first three years, Christmas was a role player, albeit a very athletic and highly publicized one. This season, however, he has emerged as Syracuse’s leading scorer and rebounder coming into this contest (17.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg).
Consequently, Christmas is appearing on a number of mock drafts as a second round prospect. Certainly, his rebounding and shot blocking abilities have not been surprising to those who have followed his Top 50 HS career. But, with a nice combination of power and quick footwork, Christmas is now raising eyebrows as being a very possible NBA interior backup. His seven buckets were scored on a variety of post isolations in which he finished with both hands and demonstrated nice touch around the rim.
Highly regarded Chris McCullough (Tisdale Award Freshman of the Year watch list) started slowly but finished with 10 and 12. The wiry 6-10, 220 pound rookie from the Bronx came in to last night’s game averaging 15.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg. He demonstrated both perimeter and interior skills. Michael Gbinje rounded out the Syracuse double figure scorers with 10 points.
While Levert definitely did not have one of his better scoring games, he was clearly the best player on the floor and showed up in other ways- especially with his big game presence. Besides his six assists, there were several other times that he made great passes that led to teammates getting fouled. Levert’s range (one of his two treys was from 26’) and his ability to score and create off the bounce are a lethal combo were still quite obvious and clearly put him in the mid first round mix this year, if not much higher.
Levert’s sidekick, the 6-7 soph wing Irvin, has diversified his game significantly by taking the ball to the rim much more than last season as a freshman. This Michigan team is clearly Levert’s but with the developing multi-dimensional Irvin, the road will be much smoother.
In spite of all the marquee player heroics tonight, the real story, however, was the support from true freshmen, Ricky Doyle, a 6-9, 245 pounder from Cape Coral, FL and Kameron Chatman, 6-7, 210 from Portland Oregon. Operating out of the low and high posts respectively, Doyle had 12 and six and Chatman 10 and nne on the big stage.
Not to be outdone was the inimitable Spike Albrecht who played 27 minutes as Derrick Walton was limited by injury. Albrecht had 11 points and nine assists and had several huge plays down the stretch including the game winning triple.
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