Michigan's Derrick Walton sits with nagging sprained toe

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Already without its top scorer, Michigan was even more shorthanded for Tuesday's matchup against Nebraska.

Another starter, sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr., missed the game at Crisler Center. Walton has been playing through a sprained toe he suffered Nov. 25 against Villanova.

He missed the following game against Nicholls State and has been slowed in the 14 games since. Walton was taking early shooting practice Tuesday about two hours before tipoff but didn't participate in team stretches and warm-ups.

"What's happening with his toe is he's overcompensated now because of how he lands," coach John Beilein said. "He started running differently and those 40 minutes (against Wisconsin on Saturday) made it too painful the next couple of days.

"It was an easy decision."

Beilein said he wasn't sure if Walton would be ready for Sunday's showdown at Michigan State, but with some additional tests Wednesday and some rest in the next few days, the outlook could improve.

"Right now we're just hoping he'd be able to play, de-ice and rehab," Beilein said. "It appears to be more than that at this point. We'll know more two or three days from now."

Although it was a game-time decision, Beilein said he didn't think Walton would be able to play after hobbling through practice.

"I would say it's more mutual — I never considered (playing him)," Beilein said. "After he couldn't practice the last two days and he was limping this morning and couldn't go to class without a scooter. I don't think I want to be a coach who's playing a guy that's going around on a scooter, unless it was something really crazy.

"I felt the best for him and the team was that he didn't play — and he didn't fight that."

Walton is averaging 10.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and three assists in 19 games this season and missed just the second game of his career.

Junior guard Caris LeVert, who led Michigan in scoring, rebounds, assists and minutes played, was lost for the season after surgery on his fractured left foot.

Without LeVert, Walton has led the Wolverines in scoring the last two games, with 17 points — including a 3-pointer that sent Saturday's Wisconsin game to overtime — and 12 points in a win at Rutgers.

With Walton out, freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got his second start of the season and tied his career high with nine points.

"I don't think Muhammad is used to taking a majority of shots in high school and he's grown little by little. He's go the speed that we need right now," Beilein said. "There's 25 more shots and all these things, we're not saying, 'Muhammad you need to take seven more shots. Just shoot it when you're open; go out there and you're not coming out and go out and play relaxed."

Adding to the injury and illness woes, freshman Mark Donnal, who has been part of an improving three-man frontcourt, also missed the game because of an illness.

"Mark Donnal came up sick yesterday and we tested him for a bunch of things," Beilein said. "He could have given us minutes if we needed him but given the fact Ricky (Doyle) and Max (Bielfeldt) felt pretty comfortable, we decided not to use him and give him some rest."

In the zone

Michigan traditionally has played more man-to-man defense but with a new lineup and players who haven't picked up all the nuances of Beilein's offense and defense, the 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 have become something of strength — and is getting them by midway through the conference season.

"You have to credit Beilein to start with. As soon as we got a rhythm with anything, in the second half, they run with the 2-3 zone and never saw it again," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "He went to the 1-3-1 and we got discombobulated. Those guys played to their strengths and played to their roles."

For Bielfeldt, it's a case of going with what works and not worrying about whether they'll be able to live up to past teams.

"We've had some success with the zone. When it's working, we need to stick to it — if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Bielfeldt said. "We were limiting Petteway on some of his shots and focusing on him."

Bad signs

Miles said he got some clues before the game that his team might not be at peak performance, with a nonchalant attitude following warmups. That translated into poor play in the first half — shooting 26 percent in the first half.

"I thought we were a little loose in the locker room and usually that's a bad sign for us," Miles said. "I didn't think we had much edge coming out. I don't know if they found out Walton was out early in warmups and that lightened them up."