Michigan guts out 'great win' over Rutgers
Piscataway, N.J. — Michigan was prepared to receive Rutgers’ best shot.
And the desperate Scarlet Knights delivered.
With their NCAA Tournament hopes dangling before their eyes, the Wolverines overcame a second-half scare and pulled out a 68-64 win over Rutgers Wednesday night at Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Zak Irvin posted his third straight double-digit performance with 16 points for Michigan (18-10, 8-7 Big Ten), which improved to 10-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 14 points, Derrick Walton Jr. scored 13 and D.J. Wilson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
"That was a great win,” Beilein said. “There's some games that you just got to grind out and as time goes on, I find those are some of best that you ever have. To get that eighth win of the conference, to get the 18th win overall. …They fought us tooth and nail every minute and we just had enough. We had enough grit.”
After Rutgers (13-16, 2-14) cut Michigan’s seven-point halftime lead to four early in the second half, the Wolverines pushed their lead to double digits in a blink as Walton buried a 3-pointer, Abdur-Rahkman converted a three-point play and Duncan Robinson hit a 3-pointer to make it 46-36 less than two minutes later.
But Rutgers didn’t waver. It countered with a 10-2 run to trim Michigan’s lead to 48-46 with 11:11 remaining. Nigel Johnson (12 points) sparked flurry with eight points – two 3-pointers and a layup – and Jonathan Laurent threw down a dunk to put the pressure on the Wolverines, who turned the ball over three times during the spurt.
Walton hit a 3-pointer to momentarily calm things but the Scarlet Knights kept pushing, scoring six straight on two free throws from Laurent, a layup from Corey Sanders (15 points) and a mid-range jumper from C.J. Gettys to grab a 52-51 lead at the 7:58 mark.
After Rutgers added two layups for four-point lead, Michigan was flirting with danger and prompted Beilein to call a timeout with 6:38 to play.
“We just want to win. We didn't care how we got it done,” Irvin said of the message during the timeout. “It doesn't get chalked up as an ugly one. A win is a win in our eyes. We know when it comes to February, March, player-led teams beat coach-led teams and that's something we try to get better each game.”
UM showed its resolve and responded with 10 straight points on a pair of Moritz Wagner layups, a Wilson 3-pointer and a Walton three-point play to go back up, 62-56, with 3:48 to play.
Rutgers quickly cut the deficit in half and made it a one-possession game following a three-point play by Mike Williams (14 points) with 3:17 remaining.
But Michigan struggled to put the game away in the final minutes. Walton, Abdur-Rahkman and Irvin combined to go 5-for-8 from the free-throw line to give Michigan a 67-64 advantage with 14 seconds left, but gave Rutgers a chance to tie it.
Sanders’ 3-point attempt on Rutgers’ final possession never drew iron and Irvin tacked on another free throw with a second left as the Wolverines dodged a near disaster and improved to 2-7 in true road games.
“Tonight was just different. It was just a different type of feel from the guys,” Walton said. “We weren't, I wouldn't say worried, but it was a calm factor between everybody.
“We looked at each other across the line and everybody had a calm factor and was really composed. That was the difference in tonight's game. We were just way more composed than we were on the road when we went down and we had a face that we just expected to win.”
Michigan’s offense settled in early as Irvin knocked down a 3-pointer and Wilson scored five straight points on a hook and a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Wolverines an 8-4 lead with 16:54 left in first half.
The Wolverines let the game get closer than they’d like as Rutgers made a charge and rattled off a 9-2 run cut it to 24-22 at the 6:24 mark. Johnson and Sanders started it with consecutive layups and Deshawn Freeman capped the spurt with five straight points on a 3-pointer and and-1 layup.
“I think we just didn't do a great job of keeping our foot on the gas,” Walton said. “What was working tonight was getting out in transition and I think we kind of settled a lot in transition.
“Only difference was not being as aggressive as we were early in the game in transition. That's when this team is at its best when we get out and run.”
After Rutgers cut UM’s lead to four, Wagner and Walton each hit two free throws to push it to eight before UM was given a gift. Abdur-Rahkman was fouled on a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left, but he missed two of the three attempts and UM settled for a 35-28 lead at the half.
“There was nothing pretty about that one at all but sometimes those games that could be ugly are beautiful wins,” Beilein said. “They're beautiful wins to fight through all that when they could've went south when we went down four.
“We did just enough to win the game and we're excited about it.”