The Michigan basketball team notched another double-digit win, but it certainly didn’t seem that way. Facing off against lowly Rutgers (0-8 Big Ten, 6-14 overall), the Wolverines struggled, failing to take a lead until more than 15 minutes into the game.
However, Michigan (6-2, 16-5) eventually pulled away and outpaced the Scarlet Knights for the win. Wednesday night featured plenty of scores, defensive stops and bloopers. Here are our Five Key Plays from the game.
1) Dawkins wakes up Michigan
The Wolverines began the game as cold as they could have, shooting just 5-of-20 from the field and trailing Rutgers more than 14 minutes into the game. With his starters struggling, Michigan coach John Beilein put in sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins.
Dawkins rewarded his coach, scoring eight points in 96 seconds to tie the game up and ignite his team.
“That was a big part of our game, to establish that sixth guy,” Beilein said. “It’s really been good, and as he continues to grow in other areas of the game, he should be an important part of us in these final 10 games that we have left.”
Added junior forward Zak Irvin: “It was huge for us, Aubrey being able to do that. For that just to happen right then and there, that got us right back on track, because we had that sluggish start.”
2) Donnal makes defensive impact
Dawkins’ ignition paid dividends on the other side of the ball as well. Junior forward Mark Donnal drew two charges and notched a big blocked shot, as Rutgers went on a 4:39 scoring drought.
In total, the Scarlet Knights turned the ball over four times and committed five fouls in the stretch. Though Donnal’s 10-point, four-rebound stat line on offense was nothing to write home about, his defensive presence during a crucial stretch for Michigan did not go unnoticed.
“Sometimes what you have to do is manufacture energy,” Beilein said. “Missing shots can take a lot out of you, and it takes it out on your defense. So you just can’t put your head down and wallow in it, you’ve got to continue to grow energy as a team.”
Michigan made a smart adjustment to the 2-3 zone, taking away some of Rutgers’ options to penetrate off of the bounce, and Donnal made timely rotations in the Wolverine defense. Donnal now has 10 blocks in Big Ten play after recording just three throughout the non-conference slate.
3) Michigan gets breathing room
With the defense clicking and Aubrey Dawkins taking the lid off the basket, the Wolverines took off on a 10-0 and 15-2 run to take over the game. After the 5-of-20 start, Michigan made five of its next seven shots, including four 3s to take control and get some breathing room.
“We had the ball dropping around, we had the ball going in and out and we had a couple just really crazy plays … we could have been beaten easily today,” Beilein said. “Sometimes you have these games, and we’re fortunate to get a win based on our performance. We’ll go from it, learn from it going forward.”
In many ways, Michigan’s run at the end of the first half decided the game. Rutgers would keep pace for much of the second half, but never closed the gap after Michigan’s run.
4) Ricky Doyle rolls
At times, the Wolverines looked frozen on offense, unable to make 3s and easy layups as usual. Things changed, however, when the pick-and-roll game clicked, especially when Ricky Doyle entered the game. Though the sophomore forward has struggled with turnovers this season, he held on to his two opportunities Wednesday, providing a spark and an easy four points.
“What he was able to do off the bench was huge for us,” Beilein said after the game.
Doyle has struggled at times this season to catch and finish chances around the rim, so this was a good step in the right direction for the slumping big man. The second catch in particular required a high degree of body control and composure to catch, finish and avoid the Rutgers shot blocker at the rim.
5) Threes start to fall as Michigan extends lead
Scoring the fewest points since Dec. 8, points were at a premium Wednesday for Michigan. But toward the end of the second half, the shots began to fall.
After making just six of 18 3-point attempts in the first half, the Wolverines knocked down five of 10 in the second stanza, including back-to-back makes as part of a 9-2 to put Michigan up 14 with 6:46 to go.
Aubrey Dawkins and Duncan Robinson, Michigan’s designated wing shooters, buried their attempts. The first was a terrific cross court pass by Zak Irvin and the second was a deep, contested three by Robinson that serves as a reminder of just how dangerous he is when he’s locked in.
“Their scheme is solid,” said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan. “That’s why they’re one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country. You have to play with organization, and that’s what they do on the fly. That’s impressive.”
Added Beilein on the hit-or-miss performance: “I’m trying to just put this in perspective. … There are some things you have to do day in and day out, so we’ll just keep working on that.”