Detroit News sports writer analyzes the Wolverines' OT setback.
Champaign, Ill. — Down the stretch, Michigan was looking for a go-to guy for a big shot.
Caris LeVert is done for the season. Derrick Walton Jr. is nursing a sore foot. Neither made the trip to Illinois.
Spike Albrecht stepped forward and took the mantle for the Wolverines. It just wasn't enough. Albrecht had nine of his 13 points in the second half, including UM's last five in regulation, and had them on the cusp of a big road win. But Illinois rallied in the final three minutes and erased a seven-point deficit, taking a 64-52 overtime win Thursday night at the State Farm Center.
"He's playing with everything he's got and he's really upset now. He wasn't brought in here to be a 39-minute, get-the-ball-to-him-and-play-ball guy," coach John Beilein said. "He's fulfilled a role valiantly at this point and made some big shots for us today."
Albrecht played a career-high 42 minutes against the Illini and shot 6-of-11 from the field, adding five assists. Albrecht, who is nursing an undisclosed injury, looked to be the best player on the floor for UM (13-12, 6-7 Big Ten) at times but didn't get a chance at the winning shot on Michigan's last possession in regulation.
After two unsuccessful attempts to inbound the ball, Beilein chose to have Albrecht trigger the play, getting it in to Max Bielfeldt, who gave it back to Albrecht, but the play backfired and resulted in a turnover, giving Illinois (17-8, 7-5) the last shot.
Albrecht said Wednesday that he called a player's-only meeting last week to try to get the team all on the same page, but it's a slow process, especially with a changing lineup — the Wolverines had only 10 players on the bench against Illinois.
"He's trying to (lead), with everything he can. That's as not as natural to him as it might have been to some of our former players," Beilein said. "He's embracing his role and doing everything he can. It's really hard when you're playing 35 minutes a game. He's getting better from it and he can play better than that."
With two of Michigan's top scorers out, it's a new role for Albrecht on and off the court, but he's getting the respect from the younger players.
"It's always been kind of his team; he's one of the veterans, as a junior. He's got the knowledge and experience to lead us," said freshman Aubrey Dawkins. "He goes out there and makes big shots and has the confidence in us to do the same. He wouldn't want us to defer out there, if we're open for the shot, we can take it too. He's a good leader."
Time to tinker
Beilein made a slight adjustment to the starting lineup against Illinois, replacing freshman Dawkins with Kameron Chatman.
Dawkins had started the last six games, cracking the lineup after LeVert was lost for the season Jan. 17. He averaged 9.5 points since becoming a starter and had 16 points against Indiana Sunday.
"I thought Kam played much better during the week (in practice) and we tried bringing Aubrey off the bench," Beilein said.
Dawkins had his first breakout game, with 20 points — including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers — in the first meeting, a 73-65 overtime win over the Illini at Crisler Center on Dec. 30. He had nine points and four rebounds Thursday.
Chatman, a 6-foot-7 wing, totaled 13 points in his previous six games, after starting the first 14 games but became a reserve after the Purdue game.
Again, the youth proved to be an issue, as Michigan gave up the late lead.
"They're growing every minute that they're doing it. We don't have that type of roster right now that's going to blow people away. We're going to be in this every single game and part of our issue is these late-game adjustments that we have to make," Beilein said. "We haven't been able to work at those because we're still trying to dribble the ball and catch the ball on two feet and shoot the ball with good spin and the fundamentals of the game.
"All these young kids shouldn't be in those situations and they're forced to be — and we have to get better at it."
The Wolverines traveled with just 10 players, leaving the injured LeVert and Walton Jr. at home, along with D.J. Wilson (redshirt candidate), Duncan Robinson (redshirt) and Austin Hatch.
A little help
As LeVert continues to recover from his foot fracture, Albrecht, his roommate, tries to make sure that LeVert gets all the help he needs. LeVert gets around campus and practice on a knee scooter or crutches and tries to keep weight off the foot, but Albrecht says LeVert doesn't take it too far by asking him to get things for him in the apartment.
"He doesn't really ask me that much, but I'm like his chauffeur," Albrecht joked. "I'm always carrying around his scooter, but I'm doing whatever I can to help."