Ann Arbor — With a roster that has been decimated by injuries, Michigan was starting to look more like a M*A*S*H unit than a Big Ten contender.
The Wolverines had already lost their leading scorer when Caris LeVert fractured his left foot and had surgery; he will miss the remainder of the season. Derrick Walton Jr. has been battling an injured foot and was a late scratch before Tuesday's game.
Without two of its top three scorers, UM continued its inspired play, coasting by Nebraska, 58-44, on Tuesday night at Crisler Center. It's the second win for the Wolverines (13-8, 6-3 Big Ten) in three games without LeVert.
"Derrick wasn't able to practice the last two days at all or even do anything on it," coach John Beilein said.
"We will know more tomorrow. My uneducated decision is he strained something in his foot by landing over and over the wrong way. As it's grown over time, the toe seems to be getting better but now he's favoring it."
Since LeVert's injury, Beilein has looked to the bench and role players to pick up some of the slack.
Zak Irvin led the way with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds and Aubrey Dawkins scored 13. Senior Max Bielfeldt added 12 points and a career-best nine rebounds.
"I didn't come in tonight saying I'd get a double-double," Bielfeldt said. "We're just playing a really good team game — whoever gets rebounds, like Zak. Everyone is going in and doing what their responsibilities are and it's paying off so well."
Irvin, who had been struggling a bit with his shot, had one of his best all-around games of the season, and equaled his career high with three assists. Without one of the big men and a guard, Irvin showed some of the flashes that made him one of the players to watch heading into the season.
In recent weeks, Irvin has struggled, but he seemed to break out against Nebraska, going 3-of-7 on 3-pointers. He was more effective on the boards, though, improving in an area that Beilein has insisted had to be one of his strengths.
"With Derrick being out and Caris being out — those are two of our best rebounders — that was a big point of emphasis going into this game, so that's something I was keying on," said Irvin, who had his first career double-double.
Detroit News basketball writer on Michigan's 58-44 win without top players.
Nebraska (12-8, 4-4) struggled shooting from the outset, hitting only 26 percent (7-of-27 in the first half. The Huskers' leading scorer Terran Petteway, who averages 19.6 points, went 1-for-11, including 1-of-7 on triples, finishing with seven points.
It was the first time Petteway didn't score in double figures in the last 30 games — dating back to last season, against the Wolverines.
"They out-competed us, they out-executed us and we didn't show much heart," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "That was really disappointing."
UM took its first lead, 8-6 on a jumper by Dawkins — and didn't relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Wolverines had just three players — Irvin, Dawkins and Bielfeldt — score in the first half.
The Huskers got a jumper by Tarin Smith and a 3-pointer by Shavon Shields (14 points) to cut it to 20-18 with 1:51 left but Dawkins' 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining gave Michigan a 23-18 advantage.
"(The freshmen) played big, key roles in this game," Irvin said. "We couldn't buy a basket at one point in the first half and Aubrey got hot, which was big for us."
Michigan pulled away in the second half, boosted by a 13-2 spurt in the first five minutes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — who tied his career high with nine points — started with a lay-in and another basket and Irvin finished the rally with a 3-pointer.
Nebraska answered with six straight points, but Abdur-Rahkman followed with a three-point play and a coast-to-coast lay-in to make it 45-29 with 10:45 remaining.
Against Nebraska's potent offense, the Wolverines tried to nurse the double-digit lead they had built and didn't want to have an up-tempo game with the big advantage.
"We were going to take what was open to us but certainly when we got ahead, we weren't going to keep shooting so quickly," Beilein said. "We wanted to value the clock and make sure they had to work really hard against any defense we threw at them."
The Huskers scored six in a row, with a 3-pointer by Smith, but Bielfeldt hit a jumper to stem the tide. The Nebraska run was 10-2, but Bielfeldt added another basket and Spike Albrecht (six points, seven assists) hit a pair of free throws.
Michigan held Nebraska to 31 percent (15-of-49) from the field and the closing spurt, which included a three-point play by Irvin and a dunk by Bielfeldt, helped seal the win.