Michigan enjoyed a comfortable 79-69 win over Rutgers on Saturday in the regular-season finale, and several players had big afternoons. Rather than focusing specifically on individual moments, today’s Five Key Plays highlights the improvements the Wolverines have made this season.
1) Aubrey Dawkins gets hot early
According to John Beilein, one of the biggest issues preventing Aubrey Dawkins from getting more playing time at the beginning of the season was the speed of his release. The forward seems to have no issues with that now.
Dawkins’ first of eight three-pointers against the Scarlet Knights came a little more than three minutes in, when Spike Albrecht drove by Bishop Daniels and dropped a pass out to the freshman. With a bit of separation from Junior Etou, Dawkins was able to hit the catch-and-shoot trey.
He scored again less than a minute later, taking a handoff from Max Bielfeldt, who also set a screen at the top of the key. It gave Dawkins a deep look, but an easy one, as Etou never got over to contest the shot.
Dawkins polished off a 3-for-3 start from deep with a look in transition. After a Rutgers miss, none of their players stayed with the forward as he set up outside the three-point line. Zak Irvin made the right pass, and Dawkins connected over Etou’s closeout.
“There’s nobody in our practices that we can guard that can do that,” said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan. “They were unselfish, they swung the ball, he had a hot hand. Game over.”
2) Spike Albrecht assists stretch lead
Remember, at the beginning of the year, Spike Albrecht figured to be a reliable backup to Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert, and the junior went through growing pains when he was forced to become a 40-minute player.
While Albrecht may forever be known best for the first-half shooting performance in the 2013 National Championship game, those who have watched him develop since then know his strengths are as an efficient distributor. He finished with nine assists to only one turnover against Rutgers.
Midway through the first half, after grabbing a far-too-easy offensive rebound, Albrecht passed on a wide open corner three to instead feed Max Bielfeldt inside when center Shaquille Doorson attempted a closeout.
Then came a drive into a pocket of four defenders in the paint, which Albrecht escaped with an over-the-shoulder flip to Bielfeldt at the left wing. The junior guard had some easier assists, too, such as finding Kameron Chatman with space outside the arc.
Beilein praised his players, and Albrecht in particular, for finding the open man; the Wolverines finished with 20 assists on 29 made field goals.
“Spike knows where the shooters are, and he finds them,” Beilein said.
3) Irvin and Chatman go back-to-back twice
Irvin and Chatman were in a shooting funk for large portions of this year, and it has been encouraging to see both of them make notable improvements during the final stretches of the season. The forward duo went back-to-back twice in the first half to build a commanding halftime lead.
The first instance came with 7:19 left until the break, when Rutgers briefly decided to implement a full-court press. The Wolverines broke it easily and momentarily had a four-on-one; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman dished to Irvin — rather than an open Chatman or Bielfeldt — for the clean look. After an Albrecht steal moments later, the junior guard made an impressive pass inside to Abdur-Rahkman, who kicked it out to Chatman for an uncontested shot of his own.
In the final 90 seconds of the half, Chatman and Irvin struck again. First came Irvin pump-faking at the top of the key, realizing his defender wasn’t going to contest a three-point shot, and taking advantage of the space. The freshman capped an 11-point first half with a trey at the buzzer, getting a kickout feed from Irvin and connecting from the left corner.
“The game slows down, and his body is speeding up,” Beilein said of Chatman. “There’s a lot of work in progress right now, and he has handled it beautifully. He has had moments that he wished he’d played differently, he just moves on. The next day he’s back and wants to be coached.
“I think you’re just seeing a shell of who he’s going to be in the future.”
4) Max Bielfeldt earns double-double
The door remains open for Max Bielfeldt to return for a fifth year, and performances like Saturday’s are examples of the center’s upside when he can stay healthy.
Earning his first career start, Bielfeldt secured his first career double-double on Senior Day, looking very comfortable in Michigan’s offense.
Six minutes into the game, as the center was operating in the low post, he saw Albrecht cutting by the baseline to the basket and delivered a perfect bounce pass for a layup. The guard returned the favor a little later, passing on a three to feed Bielfeldt inside for a lay-in of his own.
Bielfeldt also had a pair of midrange jumpers from the left wing, including an impressive turnaround shot with the shot clock winding down on a possession late in the first half.
The center grabbed his 10th rebound — to accompany 14 points — with 8:36 left in the game, and the Crisler Center crowd responded accordingly, first with a loud roar and then with chants of “double double” to the Wolverines’ lone senior.
5) Dawkins challenges record, ends game on a bang
When Aubrey Dawkins made his seventh three of the afternoon with more than 10 minutes remaining, it sent reporters scrambling into the record books to see just how close the freshman was to the single-game mark.
It turned out, he wasn’t too far off from Garde Thompson’s nine-triple performance in 1987 — and Dawkins moved himself within one merely seconds later.
The back-to-back treys both showcased major steps forward by the Wolverines. The first possession included good offensive movement, with Irvin getting the ball near the left corner and immediately recognizing a mismatch: As the forward attacked the basket, Mike Williams had to either defend Irvin’s drive or follow Dawkins to the opposite corner. Williams chose the first option, Irvin passed to Dawkins, and the freshman didn’t miss.
The following three again came after quickly breaking down the Rutgers press. Chatman got the ball at halfcourt, and at that point it was a three-on two. The freshman drove enough to draw a defender, then found Dawkins wide open in the same corner with the same result.
Dawkins couldn’t match the program record, but he ended his afternoon with yet another highlight-reel play. Passing to Albrecht from the top of the key, Dawkins curled around his defender thanks to a Bielfeldt screen, and the guard delivered a pinpoint pass for a powerful alley-oop.
It was a high-percentage shot, but so was everything for Dawkins during Big Ten play. He finished with the conference’s best true shooting percentage (65.8%) and effective field goal percentage (63.3%).