Michigan’s season was at a crossroads in Minneapolis on Wednesday as the Wolverines faced one of their first ‘must-win’ games of the 2015-16 season. After dropping back-to-back home games in deflating fashion, Michigan couldn’t afford to lose at Minnesota (6-18, 0-12 Big Ten).
Luckily Derrick Walton was up to the task, leading the Wolverines to an 82-74 road victory to help right the ship despite a late game collapse.
MVP: Derrick Walton
Derrick Walton dominated the game for the Wolverines, playing arguably the best game of his career. Walton had 19 points in the first half thanks to five made triples and he picked the Gophers apart all night. The 6-foot-1 junior finished the game with a career-high 26 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the victory in a dominant performance.
Unsung Heroes: Michigan bench
Michigan’s bench stepped up on the road in Minneapolis.
Andrew Dakich gave Michigan a few critical first half minutes and a pair of assists. Aubrey Dawkins knocked in 8 points including a few threes as Duncan Robinson sputtered from long distance in the first half. Ricky Doyle provided solid minutes on both ends as Mark Donnal battled foul trouble, finishing with 6 points and 8 free throw attempts.
Michigan’s bench isn’t deep without LeVert, and has undoubtedly struggled at times this season, but it provided the boost that the Wolverines needed on the road to pick up the victory.
It Was Over When:
When these two teams met a month ago at Crisler, Michigan was never able to put the Golden Gophers away. The Wolverines flirted with double-digit leads, but never stretched the margin to safety and then allowed a late run in the first half before getting caught in a dogfight throughout much of the second.
On Wednesday night at the Barn, Michigan appeared to avoid that mistake when it stretched its lead to 19 points in the second half, but the Gophers had one final run left in the tank. Minnesota trimmed Michigan’s lead to just 2 points with under two minutes to play and the Wolverines found themselves on the ropes.
After getting burned defensively on the previous possession, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had the answer. The sophomore guard drove baseline and overpower a Gopher defender to finish the and-one layup. On the next offensive possession the Wolverines turned the ball over, but Abdur-Rahkman helped seal the game by chasing down a fastbreak and tipping the ball off of a Gopher defender to get Michigan the ball back.
Stat of the Game: Three-point shooting
Michigan was shooting under 30% from three-point range over its last three contests and finally managed to snap the drought at The Barn. The Wolverines made 14 of 25 three-point attempts (56 percent) in the victory, the most they’ve knocked down since their Big Ten home-opening win over Penn State.