UM's Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman met the media Wednesday following a win over Tulsa in the NCAA Tournament in Dayton.
Dayton, Ohio — Sting like a bee, indeed.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit the shot of his life Wednesday night — and no matter what anyone tries to tell you, that’s just how he drew it up.
“I’m gonna stick with that (story) the rest of my life,” Abdur-Rahkman said, laughing.
Abdur-Rahkman finished with 16 points in Michigan’s 67-62 win over Tulsa in a First Four game of the NCAA Tournament, which sends the Wolverines on to Brooklyn, New York, where they will play Notre Dame at Barclays Center on Friday night.
None of those points, though, were bigger than the baseline jumper he made with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left to put Michigan up, 55-54.
Abdur-Rahkman had the ball with the final third of the shot clock left, and started driving, almost losing the ball on more than one occasion.
But he held on and with the shot clock nearing zero, Abdur-Rahkman let go a 10-footer that looked wide left all the way.
Until it kissed the glass and went on through.
“Michigan had more breaks than us,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “It just doesn’t go our way.”
Abdur-Rahkman, a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been an underrated and underappreciated player for Michigan all season, though not by his coaches or teammates.
They know what he can do.
And coach John Beilein never puts it past Abdur-Rahkman to make a shot that seems so improbable.
All the years on the playground are paying off.
“That was like a nine out of 10,” Beilein said, assessing the degree of difficulty. “East Coast. It’s windy. You’ve gotta be able to make a basket on an outdoor basket.”
Abdur-Rahkman, a sophomore who had to run the point much of Wednesday’s game with Derrick Walton Jr. battling foul trouble for the first time all season, was the only Michigan player who consistently drove against undersized Tulsa.
That’s nothing new. He’s driven on Purdue’s trees, too. He’s fearless. Abdur-Rahkman shot only 5-for-16 Wednesday — but made the one that mattered most.
Abdur-Rahkman was one of several Wolverines who made clutch plays down the stretch, including Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner.
“It’s very special when you have guys that can do that,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “It’s great to have that. And I think it’s tough for teams to guard that.”
Abdur-Rahkman also was 6-for-8 from the free-throw line.
A jolt of Wagner
Wagner played 22 minutes, his most in three months.
And it wasn’t based on foul trouble. It was based on his level of play in recent weeks, starting on the scout team two weeks ago, and continuing in the big victory over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.
“He’s been showing such great signs of life in the last couple weeks,” Beilein said. “He came in July, he’s from Germany, he’s still only 18 years old today, he’s been away from home a long time. He’s done well. He brings me energy!
“He started to show us what he showed us back in November, so we put him back in there and it’s really worked well.”
Wagner finished with eight rebounds, none bigger than the one he grabbed off Abdur-Rahkman’s missed jumper with 1:59 left. He went back up and dunked it down.
Wagner finished with four points, but had eight rebounds and four blocks — career highs — and a steal.
In his very first minute, in after Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle had each picked up a quick first foul, Wagner had three rebounds, a steal, a block and a dunk.
“Awesome. He’s so much energy,” Robinson said. “To come in and give us that spark off the bench is huge for us, and I expect the exact same thing on Friday.”
Show of support
Michigan wasn’t sure what to expect.
But the Wolverines were anticipating the worst as far as the crowd’s makeup in Dayton on Wednesday.
Despite fears that Ohioans would scoop up all the tickets and make this a pseudo road game for Michigan, Wolverines fans were out in full force, and were, by far, the most vocal contingent of the 12,582 fans in attendance.
There were some boos during introductions, but far more cheers as the game played out.
“What a great atmosphere,” Beilein said. “And we felt the Michigan presence here, very much.
“I didn’t think in the state of Ohio we’d have this many Michigan fans, but we had a lot of fans here and that made it feel like a home game and gave our kids great energy.”
It was a welcome sight for the Wolverines, who’ve acknowledged before that many Michigan fans gave up on this season long ago.
“We had a lot of support,” Irvin said. “Gotta give thanks to all our fans that followed with us.”
Robinson was 2-for-5 on 3-pointers — he made his first one and his last one, which gave Michigan the lead with 8:41 left.
That’s the third straight win Robinson in which hit a big 3-pointer in the second half, though they were much later in wins over Northwestern and Indiana.
It’s been a nice bounceback for Robinson, who was so good in nonconference play, then struggled mightily when the bodies got bigger in the Big Ten.
“When he got into the Big Ten there was a little bit of a shock on the body, the quickness, the scouting reports that he would see, he’s really adjusting to it,” Beilein said. “If somebody told me he was gonna get a double-double — I could see getting 10 3s in a game, I wouldn’t have believed 11 rebounds.”
Robinson set a career high with the 11 rebounds, in his first Division I NCAA Tournament game, after transferring from Division III Williams.
The setting really hit him like a two-by-four in the pregame warm-ups.
“It’s surreal,” Robinson said. “You know, it’s funny, you think at this point in the season, you kind of stop having pinch-me moments. But I had plenty of them today just walking down onto that floor, especially in warm-ups when ‘One Shining Moment’ was playing. That was definitely a big-time moment. I got the chills.”
Beilein gave much credit to his team’s defense, which held Tulsa to 36-percent shooting in the first half — a big reason Michigan led, 28-20, at the half, despite not scoring during a stretch of 6-plus minutes.
“It gave us enough of a lead that we could win the game down the stretch,” Beilein said.
... Walton hadn’t played fewer than 35 minutes in his last 11 games, until playing 29 on Wednesday because of foul trouble. He played the final 5:39 with four fouls, making two big free throws late.
“It felt like I owed my guys,” Walton said. “The best way to repay them was to try and make some free throws down the stretch when the game could go either way.”
... After the game, new Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who sat courtside, embraced Tulsa AD Derrick Gragg. They’re good friends from their days as ADs in the Mid-American Conference, Manuel at Buffalo and Gragg at Eastern Michigan.