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Albrecht steps up in Walton's absence, Michigan cruises

Jake Lourim
Special to The Detroit News
Michigan's Caris LeVert makes a pass around Nicholls State's T.J. Carpenter.

Ann Arbor — In the first 91 seconds of Michigan's game against Nicholls State on Saturday, the Colonels grabbed two turnovers, hit a driving layup and banked in a jumper from the free-throw line, pulling ahead 4-0.

Not much went well for them for the rest of the night.

Despite injuries to sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. and freshman forward DJ Wilson, the 19th-ranked Wolverines (5-1) scored 13 straight points early and went on to win, 91-62, on Saturday at Crisler Center.

Walton (sprained toe) and Wilson (sprained knee) were both injured in the Villanova game Tuesday. Coach John Beilein said he didn't know the severity of either injury.

Spike Albrecht started in Walton's place and contributed all over the floor, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and three steals. Michigan's offense didn't miss a beat with the loss of its starting point guard, starting 4-of-4 from the field. Albrecht made the first 3-pointer and assisted on the next three baskets, putting the Wolverines up 11-4.

"Spike's a great point guard as well, so it's not much of a difference," junior Caris LeVert said. "When he comes in, the offense moves smoothly, just as if Derrick was in the game."

Despite playing 32 minutes at point guard, Albrecht finished with zero turnovers, bringing his season totals to 23 assists and five giveaways.

"You can imagine going into this game when we discovered Derrick wasn't going to be able to play, we had some anxieties going into this game," Beilein said. "You should know better when you give Spike Albrecht the ball and then you've got Caris LeVert in the backcourt, that you could get through that. But at the same time, it's always scary going into any game when you're missing what I think is one of the better point guards in the country."

The Wolverines cooled off after their initial run, but Nicholls State (0-4) was never competitive enough to stay in the game. In the first half, the Colonels shot just 31 percent (9-of-29) and turned the ball over 10 times. Michigan also did a better job of cleaning up the glass, outrebounding Nicholls State in the first half after losing the rebounding battle in both games at the Legends Classic earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines stayed hot from outside, hitting eight of 12 3-point shots in the first half. LeVert hit three 3-pointers and sophomore Zak Irvin added one in a 20-3 run. At the end of the spurt, Michigan led 41-15 with 4:31 left until halftime.

Freshman Ricky Doyle added 15 points and six boards off the bench, building off his 10-point game against Oregon in Brooklyn on Monday.

Michigan finished with five double-figure scorers — LeVert (24), Doyle (15), Irvin (14), freshman Kameron Chatman (11) and Albrecht (10) each stepping up in Walton's absence.

The Wolverines let up in the second half until back-to-back 3-pointers by LeVert and freshman Aubrey Dawkins made it 81-42 with 6:52 to go. With a big test coming Tuesday against Syracuse in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Michigan's win served exactly its purpose — a mere tune-up after two tight games in 26 hours in New York.

"It's important to go into that Syracuse game with a 'W,' but when that ball goes up and Jim (Boeheim) puts his team together, this game won't mean anything, or any other game we have," Beilein said. "Our guys are going to have to play really at a high level to be in that game."

Jake Lourim is a freelance writer.