Michigan cruised to a win over Howard on Friday, here are Five Key Plays from the victory.
1. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman snaps the scoring drought
When things have broken down offensively over the last two years, it feels like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is the first player on the roster to step in and make a play. He’s not always conventional, but he figures out how to get a bucket.
When Michigan failed to score before the first television timeout on Friday night, the frustration was evident until the ball found Abdur-Rahkman’s hands. He quickly knocked in back-to-back threes which injected an immediate shot of confidence into the Michigan rotation and from that point the Wolverines never really looked back.
Abdur-Rahkman struggled to do much else on Friday as he battled foul trouble after missing last week’s exhibition game with an injury, but his calming presence when the offense starts to slow down was a welcome presence.
2. DJ Wilson joins the game
DJ Wilson was fairly invisible in the first half with two fouls and two misses in 6 minutes, but he came to play in the second. He got involved early in a way that John Beilein has been preaching that he wants to see: with his athleticism.
Wilson threw down a tip-slam on the offensive end and then backed it up with a blocked shot on the defensive end. The shot block was a product of some pretty bad perimeter defense, but Wilson recovered and sent it to the seats. The early second half momentum for DJ carried over later in the game and he was perhaps the most critical Wolverine in the second half.
3. Wilson, Irvin answer Howard run
Michigan had been in cruise control for most of this game, keeping its lead around 10 points, but a 3 minute scoring drought and a couple of Howard shots suddenly cut the lead to just five points midway through the second half.
DJ Wilson and Zak Irvin were critical in almost every basket that Michigan made during its run to answer the Howard run. Wilson made play after play in the middle of Howard’s match-up zone while Irvin knocked in a few critical shots and even grabbed an offensive rebound on a free throw.
“It’s an aggressive match-up zone and they’re taking things away and flying around with great quickness,” Beilein said of Howard’s zone. “We may not see that type of quickness all year long. We had all kinds of plans—some of them worked, some of them didn’t. It came down to ‘play ball.’ And we played ball when we needed to.”
While not everything that Michigan did against the match-up zone worked, Wilson’s length and passing ability certainly did. He made the right reads, the right passes and was active on the offensive glass.
4. Mark Donnal hustles
Mark Donnal’s offensive game isn’t as versatile or flashy as Moritz Wagner’s, but Donnal was awarded plenty of opportunity as some of Wagner’s old habits crept into his game on the defensive end. Donnal answered the call with a blue collar effort that saw him involved on the offensive glass and even knock in a mid-range jumper.
Donnal gave Michigan some great minutes late in the first half, when most of the Wolverine rotation was sidelined with foul trouble, and then he added a nice and-one basket early in the second.
“Off the bench, we got 21 [points] and 14 [rebounds] out of DJ [Wilson] and Mark Donnal,” Beilein said after the win. “That’s what we needed last year. Who was going to come off bench, [the sixth and seventh guys], and give us something? They really did a good job.”
5. Derrick Walton ices the game with the three
It was Michigan senior point guard Derrick Walton, who battled through an ankle tweak to play 35 minutes, who knocked in back-to-back threes to finally put the game to bed.
Walton was 4-of-7 from three-point range on the night, including one of these very deep threes, and finished with a team-high 20 points in the victory.
“Definitely [an example of him hunting shots tonight],” Beilein said. “I told him right before the game, ‘Derrick, this is going to be a game you’re going to need to hunt on top.’ He made some big shots; four threes. He’s got to do it. Several [other] times I wanted him to shoot. Has to have that mentality.”
With Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson struggled with their shots early on this season, I’d expect Michigan to try to get as many three-point attempts for Derrick Walton as possible early on this season.