Austin, Texas — Maybe it was a swift kick in the rear or maybe it was a metaphorical wolf chasing down senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
Whatever it was, it seemed to work and brought the best out of Abdur-Rahkman in Michigan’s gutsy 59-52 road win over Texas on Tuesday.
Against the Longhorns, Abdur-Rahkman turned in his most impressive performance of the season and knocked down several momentum-shifting shots en route to his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Quite frankly, it’s the type of showing Michigan coach John Beilein has been waiting on from Abdur-Rahkman, who was quietly averaging 7.3 points and shooting 25.8 percent (8-for-31) during the team’s tough stretch against North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio State and UCLA.
“We’ve been on him pretty good in practice,” Beilein said. “He’s better than his stats would say. And he needed to do that.”
And seemingly whenever Michigan needed a clutch shot, Abdur-Rahkman was there to deliver.
As the Wolverines missed their first six shots and watched their 12-point halftime lead quickly dwindle at the start of the second half, it was Abdur-Rahkman who ended the slide with a bucket.
Then after junior center Moritz Wagner exited the game because of a right ankle injury and Texas cut Michigan’s 14-point lead in half with 6:09 remaining, Abdur-Rahkman hit a desperation 3-pointer off the backboard late in the shot clock to push the Wolverines’ lead back to 10.
And when Texas mustered back-to-back baskets to pull within six points with 2:13 remaining, Abdur-Rahkman played the role of the closer by making a floater in the lane and a free throw on consecutive possessions to help put the game out of reach, 56-47, in the final minute.
“The bank shot (3-pointer) was a bank shot. He didn’t try to bank that,” Beilein said. “But the runner he has been missing and we worked on it the last two days. The runner really put us up by eight there and that was a huge shot for us. He worked on that and he’s got to continue to just stay in there.
“His defense has been really good and then it’s been very average. That’s his enemy. He’s such a nice kid that sometimes he just will not be as engaged as he needs to be when you are one of the guys.”
It’s something Abdur-Rahkman continues to adapt to as he takes on a more significant role as one of the key players whose decisions on offense and defense in crunch time determine games.
And on Tuesday, Abdur-Rahkman didn't shy away from stepping up in those game-defining moments.
“He’s been through so many tough games, big games in his career. I’m not surprised,” redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews said. “I see him every day in practice. I know how great of player he is. I’m just thankful he did what he did for us.”
Last season, Michigan rarely had success in true road games. The Wolverines started the season 0-6 in opponents’ arenas and didn’t record their first win until February.
This time around, the wait wasn’t nearly as long as Michigan picked up a key road win in just its third try after falling at North Carolina and Ohio State.
“It feels pretty good,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We’ve been stressing that we need to be road warriors and play tough on the road and not just lay over when they make runs. We’ve been stressing that a lot and it feels good to finally get a win this early.”
… Michigan has held five of its opponents to their lowest scoring totals of the season: VCU (60 points), Indiana (55), Texas (52), Southern Miss (47) and UC-Riverside (42).
…Following Tuesday’s game, the Wolverines rank 33rd in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency (95.5 points per 100 possessions).