Earning a win on the road has been a struggle for the Michigan basketball team this season. Even on Wednesday in New Jersey, a victory against lowly Rutgers appeared to be in jeopardy as time ticked down.
But with a certain urgency toward the end of the season to strengthen its chances for an NCAA Tournament bid — and with a milestone on the line for Wolverines coach John Beilein — Michigan earned a 68-64 win against the Scarlet Knights at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
The Wolverines’ Zak Irvin led all scorers with 16 points, and Beilein earned his 500th win as a Division I coach.
Michigan (18-10, 8-7 Big Ten) counted on its 3-point shooting early, as Irvin, D.J. Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes to help the Wolverines to a 13-6 lead. As Rutgers (13-16, 2-14) forced Michigan to stay outside early, the Wolverines responded with 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc in building a 22-13 lead halfway through the first half.
Rutgers cut Michigan’s lead to 2 with about 6 minutes left in the half on Deshaun Freeman’s layup, part of a 9-2 run by the Scarlet Knights. But Michigan took a 35-28 lead into halftime despite going without a made field goal in the final 4:30 of the first half.
Michigan and Rutgers were a combined 2-for-13 shooting in the first 3 minutes of the second half. Rutgers cut Michigan’s lead to 48-46 with 11:11 to play on Nigel Johnson’s 3-pointer, part of a 10-2 run by the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers actually took a 52-51 lead with 7:58 to play and led by as many as 4 at 56-52. But a 10-0 run by Michigan gave the Wolverines control again, before the Scarlet Knights narrowed the deficit to 2 points in the final 1:25 on a Mike Williams jumper. That forced the Wolverines to convert at the free-throw line to preserve their lead, which they did despite going without a field goal in the final 3:48.
What it means for Michigan
Again, the value of this win is threefold; Michigan earns only its second true road win this season, got some help for its bottom line as Michigan pursues an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and gets the milestone win for Beilein.
The details counted, as well, for Michigan.
Michigan’s rebounding game was strong against the Scarlet Knights — Michigan had 20 rebounds in each half, while Rutgers finished with 33.
However, turnovers plagued the Wolverines. When Rutgers took a 56-52 lead with less than 7 minutes left, Michigan had 11 turnovers that resulted in 15 points for the Scarlet Knights. Michigan rallied for the win despite finishing 10 of 31 on 3-pointers.
Irvin got off to a hot start early, scoring 7 points in the first 10 minutes and 13 points in the first half. Irvin went 5 of 7 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers. Irvin notched his third straight game in double digits in scoring, following an 18-point game Feb. 16 against Wisconsin and a 10-point game Sunday at Minnesota.
Derrick Walton Jr. scored 2 points in the first half but finished with 13; Moritz Wagner, who has established a strong inside presence, finished with 8 points.
Who was there
There definitely was not a full crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) February 22, 2017
Who is next
Michigan hosts No. 14 Purdue at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Crisler Center in its regular-season home finale. Not only will Michigan honor its departing seniors but it also will honor Chad Carr, the grandson of former football coach Lloyd Carr. Chad died in November 2015 after having an inoperable brain tumor at age 5.
They. Are. Back!
〽️? to wear @chadtough
t-shirts for Saturday's game vs. Purdue
Get one today! Be part if it all!
— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) February 22, 2017