Walton scores 26 as Michigan defeats Minnesota
Minneapolis — Michigan’s large lead had been slashed by feisty Minnesota to two points, and coach John Beilein called timeout with 89 seconds left to set up the next play.
The Wolverines emerged with a clutch layup and pulled out the must-have victory on Wednesday night. The Gophers, once again, fell just short.
Derrick Walton Jr. sparked Michigan’s strong start with 19 of his career-high 26 points in the first half, and the Wolverines escaped with an 82-74 win that gave the Gophers their 13th consecutive loss.
“We knew they were going to make a run, so we just tried to band together and weather that storm,” said Duncan Robinson, who had 14 points and nine rebounds to help the Wolverines (18-7, 8-4 Big Ten) bounce back from a pair of double-digit defeats at home last week to Indiana and Michigan State.
Nate Mason scored 19 points for the Gophers (6-18, 0-12), whose last win was Dec. 16 against Chicago State. They didn’t fold after falling behind by 19 points early in the second half and still trailing 70-53 with 7:30 left, but instead stormed back to pull within 74-72 on a layup by Carlos Morris with 1:37 remaining.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who had 16 points, answered with a layup from the baseline that drew a foul on Morris, though, and his three-point play put the Wolverines on better footing. Zak Irvin, who stumbled through a 1-for-8 shooting night, set up the play with his pass from the paint.
Beilein wasn’t berating his players for the late lapse during the timeout. He was just trying to help them finish.
“I was more trying to give them confidence, saying, ‘We’re going to win this game, and we’re going to execute this play, and we’ve got to get a guy in the lane and play ball,’” Beilein said.
Walton added eight rebounds and seven assists for the Wolverines, who shot 56 percent (14 for 25) from 3-point range.
The worst strategy the Gophers could have followed was to get in an outside-shooting contest with the Wolverines, but that’s what happened early and that’s essentially how the game was decided. The Gophers went 3 for 12 from behind the arc before halftime and trailed 42-28.
“In the second half we got more aggressive and started using our speed as a weapon,” Mason said. “I feel like next game we have to start using that at the beginning of the game.”
Coach Richard Pitino would love that.
“It’s hard to tell a guy, ‘Hey, you’re not a great 3-point shooter,’ ” Pitino said, adding: “That’s got to be our identity, driving the ball. We’re not Michigan.”
The Gophers gave the Wolverines a scare in the first meeting, too, a 74-69 win by Michigan on its home court, but for all the progress shown in the second half in shooting, strategy and fortitude, they were simply stuck with the same result.
“At some point here, come on,” Pitino said. “Let’s get some wins.”
The Wolverines played again without leading scorer Caris LeVert, whose left lower-leg injury stretched the senior swingman’s absence to 11 straight games, but they’ve avoided any extended letdowns with their perimeter depth and disciplined offense. Michigan, averaging more than 10 made 3-pointers per game, is the only team in the conference averaging fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
This time, it was Walton’s turn to shine.
“I was just trying to get the offense flowing and make some plays for us,” he said.