Ann Arbor, MI – Michigan’s chances for an upset victory over #3 Maryland on Tuesday night took a hit before the game when word filtered down that the Wolverines’ do-everything wing Caris LeVert was still suffering the effects of an injured left leg and would be sidelined for the third game in a row.
Who would step up for the Wolverines? Would it be juniors Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton? How about redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson? The answers: yes, yes and yes.
Coming up big time and time again in the second half, Irvin was the catalyst and Robinson and Walton played key supporting roles in leading Michigan to a 70-67 win over a Maryland team that had risen to the third spot in both major polls this week.
“That’s a huge win over a top-three team,” said Irvin, who finished with a team-high 22 points on an efficient 8-for-14 night from the floor. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We were able to stay strong mentally and just fight through adversity. I was proud of us.”
Irvin knocked down a contested three-point shot, one of three he made in seven attempts, early in the first half to stake Michigan to an 8-4 lead that it would maintain all half and expand to 37-29 at the break.
As Irvin stayed solid throughout the first half scoring at all three levels and the free throw line, Robinson played the role of sniper. Losing his defender time and time again on the perimeter, Robinson drained 4-of-5 shots from distance, all the shots he attempted in the first half, in scoring 12 points and invigorating a huge Michigan crowd.
Robinson was sitting out his redshirt season last year at this time after becoming the first D-III player to ever enroll at Michigan as a scholarship transfer. The 6-8 native of New Castle, New Hampshire played his freshman season at D-III Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Coach Mike Maker, a former assistant of Michigan Head Coach John Beilein.
Maker directed Robinson to Michigan where it was hoped his proficiency from behind the three-point strip would transfer to Michigan and one of the highest levels of D-I basketball in the Big Ten. By all accounts, it has.
Robinson entered the game connecting on an eye-popping 56 percent of his three-point attempts. By finishing the game 5-for-9 from distance, he shot that same 56 percent and helped the Wolverines to twelve makes from behind the arc, doubling the six made three pointers of Maryland.
Robinson was seen working on this three-point shot 90 minutes before the start of the game. As the only player from either team on the court at the time, he worked on his shot from behind the arc with two managers shooting off the catch, after a shot fake, off the dribble and after stepping back.
In his postgame press conference, Beilein’s face lit up when asked about Robinson’s performance. After commenting on the importance of Robinson’s long-distance shooting to the Wolverines’ victory, the veteran Michigan coach commented on the make-up of his stretch four. “He (Robinson) thanks me every day after practice for coaching him,” Beilein said through a smile, giving reporters the impression that that is not something he’s said often about a player in his 38 years as a collegiate head coach.
It was Beilein who had to be thankful for having Walton running the point for his team. Looking across him at the center jump circle, Walton saw Melo Trimble, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year who has been living up to that lofty accolade with his play in the first half of the season.
Walton rose to the occasion not only outplaying Trimble, but impacting the game in almost every area of the stat sheet. Walton’s four assists tied him for team high honors. Nothing unusual there for as a point guard as facilitating is part of the job description. But at 6-1, Walton showed off his fearlessness sinking into the paint to pull down a team high ten rebounds.
“It was a huge win for us for the fact that we were without one of our leaders (LeVert),” said Walton. “It’s all about protecting our home court, playing as hard as possible and being satisfied with our effort. Tonight we were satisfied with our effort.”
Two first half fouls knocked Trimble off his game and relegated him the Terrapins’ bench for half the 20 minutes of the first half. “It was real key getting him (Trimble) out of the game with those two fouls,” said Walton.
Trimble played all 20 minutes of the second half and while he ran screen-and-roll effectively with the Maryland bigs, especially freshman Diamond Stone, his line score fell well below his high standards. Shooting 1-for-7 from the field, Trimble finished with those two points, never got to the free throw line and ended the game with more turnovers (four) than assists (three), never a good thing for a point guard.
“This was the first time all year he (Trimble) was in foul trouble,” said Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon. “He totally lost his rhythm tonight.”
But Stone, a 6-11 freshman center, and Jake Layman, a 6-9 stretch four with just as pretty a shot as Robinson from behind the arc, picked up the slack for Trimble and rallied the Terrapins in the second half.
A McDonald’s All-American and four-time state high school champion from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Stone led Maryland with 22 points, 19 of which came after intermission. Stone has a little Demarcus Cousins in his game. Blessed with great hands and a soft shooting touch, Stone can face up his defender in the mid-post area to either shoot over him or drive him to the basket to score at the rim.
While not a great leaper, Stone is a quick leaper and used his instincts, timing and jumping ability to his advantage in the paint in the second half. Active on the offensive glass, Stone led both teams with four offensive rebounds being the first to not only his teammates’ misses, but his own as well.
Stone became Maryland go-to player in the second half. Trailing by as many as 13 points, the Terrapins inched ahead 57-56 at the 6:41 mark when Stone converted a lay-up with his off (left) hand through contact and made the ensuing free throw.
Not long after, with Maryland coming out of a time out with four seconds left on the shot clock, Turgeon ran a play where he spread four players on the perimeter and isolated Stone on the low block. Stone received a pass with enough time to back down his defender and score, again with his left hand.
An Irvin straight-on three-pointer with 2:58 left expanded Michigan’s lead to 67-59. But Maryland rallied. Quiet much of the night on the offensive end, Maryland’s Rasheed Sulaimon knocked down two three-point shots on two consecutive Maryland possessions to draw the Terrapins closer.
After Michigan’s Mark Donnal missed a free throw with Michigan up 70-67 and 14 seconds left on the clock, Maryland pushed the ball into its frontcourt where it settled into the hands of Sulaimon. His three-pointer to tie the game was off this time and Michigan had a signature win.
“We got a good look at the end,” said Turgeon. “Their five man switched to contest the shot. But we lost the game long before that. They (Michigan) were great tonight. Zak Irvin was terrific. We couldn’t guard him with our big line-up and he forced us to go small. We missed some shots we normally make, but give Michigan credit.”
The defeat was only Maryland’s second of the season and first in the Big Ten. The Terrapins will try to get back on the winning track when they host Ohio State on January 16. Michigan will attempt to build on the Maryland victory when it gets back to action on January 17 in a road game at Iowa.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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