UM struggles before downing Rutgers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — John Beilein had a sneaking suspicion there was going to be trouble when, before the game, he couldn’t find his scouting report.

Before each of the more than 1,000 games he’s coached, Beilein has made it a point to take one more look at his four or five pages of notes.

That wasn’t in the cards Wednesday.

“That was a bad omen to start,” Beilein said. “It’s a mystery.”

Like he couldn’t find his scouting report, Michigan couldn’t find its shot for much of the game against lowly Rutgers, but it did enough to get the win, 68-57, before a barely half-full crowd at Crisler Center.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 68, Rutgers 57

After the game, Beilein had a meeting with a family of Michigan fans.

What did he tell them?

“I hope you enjoyed that,” Beilein said, “because I did not.

“Somebody had to have a good time today.”

This was the second time in as many home games that Michigan has failed to play very well against an inferior opponent, after it struggled before beating Minnesota last week.

The Wolverines (16-5, 6-2 Big Ten) struggled mightily to make shots early, and that had a ripple-down effect on other aspects, including defense.

It took the sixth man, Aubrey Dawkins, to light the spark in this one — even though he had a highlight, OK lowlight, that had him shaking his head afterward.

With 8 minutes, 47 seconds left in the game, Dawkins got a shovel pass at the free-throw line and went flying for the show-stopping dunk — only, he jumped too early, and completely whiffed, turning it over and leading to a Rutgers basket to cut the lead to a rather uncomfortable 52-46.

Beilein could’ve yanked Dawkins right there, and everyone would’ve understood, but he didn’t. Dawkins came right back and drained a 3, and that was followed by a Duncan Robinson 3 (with an assist from Dawkins) and three made free throws from Derrick Walton Jr., after he was fouled on a 3.

Three possessions, nine points, and just like that, it was 61-47. And while Rutgers (6-15, 0-8) battled to the end, there wasn’t much left in the tank for a team that just doesn’t have the horses.

“We’ve just gotta learn from it,” Zak Irvin said. “We really let that (poor shooting) dictate our game for the whole game.”

Said Walton: “We can’t have performances like this.”

Ricky Doyle, who’s lost his starting spot, also gave Michigan a spark with back-to-back baskets in the paint in the second half. The guy who took his starting job, Mark Donnal, provided a big spark in the first half.

Michigan missed its first five 3-pointers of the game, and nine of its first 11. And from then on, players hesitated on open looks.

It carried over on defense, where undersized Rutgers actually scored more points in the paint and had more rebounds.

“We work our butts off,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s the nature of the game. It wears us down.”

Rutgers led by as many as six points early in the game, and Michigan didn’t lead until there was fewer than five minutes to play, as if you saw that coming.

That’s where Dawkins gave the team a huge boost, coming into the game and hitting a couple of quick 3s and a dunk.

Donnal had a big role in that stretch, too, taking two charges with a block, assist (on one of Dawkins’ 3s) and two made free throws in a 47-second span. The two free throws gave Michigan its first lead, with 4:50 left in the first half.

Robinson finished with 18 points (5-of-14 shooting). Derrick Walton Jr. scored 14, Dawkins 11 and Donnal 10.

Irvin had a rough night shooting, and clearly lost confidence as the game went along, but still tied a career-high with 12 rebounds, and had eight assists.

Michigan made 17 of 20 free throws — 14 of 17 in the second half — which proved to be big. Walton was 5-for-5, Robinson 4-for-4.

“I think we were a little flat. I’m not sure what the reason was,” Dawkins said. “Obviously, that can’t happen the next game or the games following that.”

Mike Williams scored 17 to lead Rutgers, and Corey Sanders had 15 points and seven rebounds.

Late in the game, after Irvin missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Jonathan Laurent handed the ball to the referee, who was standing out of bounds, clearly thinking it was a double-bonus situation.

That was a first for Beilein, just as it was losing his gosh-darn scouting report.