‘Big play at big time’: Abdur-Rahkman rescues Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had never been in a pressure-packed situation like it before.

With No. 23 Michigan trailing by a point to Maryland with 1.2 seconds remaining, he stepped to the free-throw line for two shots with the game hanging in the balance.

And Abdur-Rahkman calmly delivered, turning the hushed silence of the Crisler Center crowd into an eruption of euphoria as he lifted the weary Wolverines over the short-handed Terrapins, 68-67, Monday in a wild finish.

“I wasn't thinking about much, just making the free throws,” said Abdur-Rakhman, a 92-percent free-throw shooter who scored five of his seven points in the final minute, including a 3-pointer that gave Michigan a 64-59 advantage with 1:03 to play.

“I mean, I do it every day in practice. I zoned everybody out like I'm the only person in the gym and just went up there and knocked them down.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan 68, Maryland 67

After rallying from a 14-point first-half deficit and leading by 10 with five-plus minutes left in the second half, Michigan (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten) found itself trailing 67-66 with 3.2 seconds left after Kevin Huerter buried an open 3-pointer to cap a late 13-5 run by Maryland.

That’s when Michigan coach John Beilein called a timeout and drew up a play that the team practices every week — and one Beilein has had in the bag for roughly 20 years but has rarely used since it’s only for full-court situations.

On the ensuing inbounds play, freshman forward Isaiah Livers fired a pass just past half court over Maryland's press to Abdur-Rahkman, who pounded three dribbles and quickly got into the lane, where he was tripped by Maryland forward Bruno Fernando.

Beilein said as soon as he saw Abdur-Rahkman catch the pass in stride and turn up court, he knew what was going to happen.

“You can't make (that pass) if you don't have a baseball player throwing the pass and Isaiah Livers threw it perfect, so he could turn (and go),” Beilein said. “I said, ‘We're going to win the game.’ I just felt that he could go to the basket and he's just going to find a niche to get in there and lay it in because we had guys spread out in the corner. They were zoning up pretty much on it. There was misdirection, it gave him a window and, boom, he was there.”

Abdur-Rahkman said the final play was drawn up for him to catch it and get up court as fast as possible but there was a second option to make a play for someone else if needed. But thanks to Livers’ perfect pass and plenty of open space, none of that was necessary.

“That was a good pass,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Kind of had like a little flashback during it back to my days when I was playing football. Just zero in on the ball, turn your head up, look up the court. I saw nobody in front of me, so I just tried to get downhill as fast as possible.”

And after drawing a foul on the drive, Abdur-Rahkman had to wait out a delay while officials checked the game clock before stepping to the line and sinking both free throws, which gave him his 1,000th career point.

“I was just thinking about going up there and visualizing making the shot,” he said. “I mean, that's the best way to explain it. Just visualizing making the big play at the big time so it's nothing new."

Moritz Wagner had 18 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season and Jordan Poole provided a much-needed spark off the bench with 11 second-half points for Michigan, which shot 31 percent (9-for-29) in the first half and 50 percent (16-for-32) in the second.

Anthony Cowan scored 24, Huerter finished with 12 points and Darryl Morsell added 10 for Maryland (14-6, 3-4), which was without forwards Justin Jackson (shoulder) and Ivan Bender (knee) because of season-ending injuries and guard Dion Wiley because of a concussion.

“This one hurts,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We battled tonight. We really guarded well except the start of the second half. They made some shots and we turned the ball over during that stretch, but we never stopped.

“We kind of snuck up on them at the end. We made back-to-back 3s and we executed well with no timeouts. We just didn't handle the last 3.2 seconds the right way. I obviously didn't get my point across to the players of where they needed to catch the ball. Can't let them throw over your press and get going downhill. This one obviously stings a little bit because we thought we had it.”

Coming off an emotionally charged road win over Michigan State two days ago, Michigan came out flat and lethargic as Maryland used a 14-3 and a 10-2 run to build a 28-14 lead with 4:06 left in the first half.

After closing the half with a 6-2 spurt to pull within 30-20 at the break — Michigan’s lowest-scoring first half of the season — the Wolverines opened the second half on a 10-0 run to tie it at 30 with 16:58 remaining following a three-point play by Zavier Simpson.

Maryland quickly countered with a 7-0 run before Michigan hit five straight 3-pointers — three coming from Poole — to go back on top, 45-41, at the 12:40 mark.

Wagner and Duncan Robinson joined the 3-point party with back-to-back deep balls to spark a 13-2 run that gave Michigan its largest lead, 59-49, with 5:50 left. The Wolverines followed that with a string of six missed shots while the Terrapins staged their late push that ended with back-to-back 3-pointers by Cowan and Huerter in the final 20 seconds and near devastation for Michigan.

“What a game of runs,” Beilein said. “Give them a lot of credit the way they executed, how sharp they were. They made us look bad. We did miss some shots, some easy ones but we also didn't get many easy ones. Maryland really did a great job of just guarding us and owning the whole first half.

“What's amazing now is we get it to 10 at half and Jaaron Simmons gets a great layup and we come out (the break) the way we did. We just jumped them and it put us right back in the game and then they went right back at us. Then all of a sudden, we're going right back at them. It was a game of runs and I don't know if we won too many games like that here.”