For much of the first half, it looked like the Michigan basketball team was set to be blown out again. For much of the second half, the Wolverines looked like a team ready to play for another month.
In the end, Michigan suffered a close, but encouraging loss to No. 6 Maryland. A narrow loss to a good team doesn’t do much for the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament resume, but Michigan showed plenty of positive growth in its comeback effort.
We look at that growth and how the Wolverines ultimately lost to the Terrapins in our five key plays.
1) Kameron Chatman provides a spark
Sophomore forward Kam Chatman played more minutes Sunday than he had in all of Big Ten play, but looked right at home in College Park. Entering the game with his team down 16 points, Chatman was more assertive than usual for Michigan.
In eight minutes of action, Chatman scored six points and added two rebounds, an assist and a steal. He also proved to be the catalyst the Wolverines needed, helping spark a 19-8 run to close the halftime deficit to five.
“That was really good. We just made a better decision that we flow better with him on the floor,” Beilein said. “It’s something we’ve seen in practice. We saw it in a game for the first time in a long time, so he’ll get more time moving forward.”
A couple nice assists from Chatman, who has always been an above-average passer, weren’t a major surprise, but it was shocking for the 6-foot-8 sophomore to hit a pair of threes. Entering Sunday’s game, Chatman was just 3-of-20 from three-point range on the season and he’d only made three field goals in Big Ten play.
2) Mark Donnal takes over
If Kam Chatman helped keep Michigan afloat in the first half, junior forward Mark Donnal nearly steered the ship to the promised land. Donnal struck gold in the second half, scoring 22 of his 25 points in the second frame. The forward was successful all over the court.
He got going thanks to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s ability to find him as an outlet off of dribble penetration. Rather than traditional ball screen action, Donnal was able to drift along the baseline to help when Abdur-Rahkman would drive into the lane. Then the 6-foot-10 forward got involved in the ball screen game with Zak Irvin and hit a pair of threes with some pop action off of a pindown screen to give Michigan the lead.
“When we can stretch teams with the five man, it changes everything,” Beilein said. “Because we have so many good big men (in the Big Ten), it’s hard to get the ball right at the rim. But when you can pick-and-pop with the five man or do different things with the five man, it changes the game.”
Added sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: “When you see a guy on your team that (can) score a lot of points, you kind of get excited for him. You get up, you get a little more energy. You play harder.”
He didn’t match his career high of 26 set Dec. 30, but it was far and away Donnal’s best game against a very talented Maryland frontline.
3) Donnal answers again
Donnal had given Michigan the lead five minutes into the second half, but he picked up his third foul and was forced to the bench. Maryland quickly countered with a 15-5 run of its own to regain control of the game.
So what did Michigan do? It went back to Donnal.
“This is what we saw in the recruiting cycle with him,” Beilein said. “There’s another gear for Mark that you saw today. He’s not in second gear, he’s not in third, he’s in fourth gear a lot. And he’s got a fifth gear that can make him a really good college basketball player. There was a time today that he really got it done.”
Now trailing by 8 points with 8:47 to play in the second half, Donnal answered with a personal 6-0 run. First scoring on two pick-and-roll dimes from Irvin and Derrick Walton and then earning his reward for running the floor with a transition dunk.
4) Offense goes cold late
Michigan regained the lead, but then let the Terps regain control once again as it missed six of its final eight shots and turned the ball over four times in the final five minutes.
“We just didn’t have enough to get it done,” Beilein said. “We had tough breaks down the stretch, the ball didn’t bounce our way a couple of times, other things didn’t go our way a couple of times. In the end it just wasn’t enough to get a victory.”
There were chances like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s open corner three, or a missed layup that ended up as a questionable foul call on Irvin chasing a loose ball, or Duncan Robinson bobbling a routine pass out of bounds. Michigan had a chance to pull off the upset at Maryland, but this wasn’t the sort of game that it could win without a few breaks.
5) Derrick Walton fouls out
Despite the dropoff in play, the Wolverines were within one possession until there were seven seconds left. But the comeback effort took a major hit with 18 seconds to go, when junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. became the first Michigan player to foul out all season.
The foul didn’t come without controversy, either. Driving to the basket with his team down three, Walton got called for an offensive foul for using his off-arm against Rasheed Sulaimon. Walton didn’t necessarily agree with the call while John Beilein couldn’t get a good look.
“Some type of offensive foul, I was blinded by it,” Beilein said after the game. “We were trying to get into a pick-and-pop situation where we could go downhill and find Mark at the rim if they have to give help. But he didn’t get enough leverage, I guess, and he ended up creating his own foul.”
Watching the replay it was clear that Walton did extend the off-arm, but there was also a bit of contact from Sulaimon defensively. Either way it was a tough call for the Wolverines, who lost the free throw battle on the night, to swallow as their upset hopes were dashed.