Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 76-73 overtime win at Crisler Center. James Hawkins
Ann Arbor – When the game is on the line, who is going to take the shot for Michigan?
It was a legitimate question heading into the season with top options Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and D.J. Wilson all gone from last year’s Sweet 16 team.
Enter senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who has risen to the occasion and become the go-to scorer in the clutch for the Wolverines.
With Saturday’s game against Minnesota knotted at 73 and 11 seconds remaining in overtime, it was Abdur-Rahkman who had the ball in his hands out on the wing before he drove, spun and made a layup while being fouled with 3.8 ticks left.
Granted, Abdur-Rahkman had an opportunity to seal it in regulation but missed four free throws in the final four minutes, including a pair with 18 seconds left and Michigan up by five. But he showed his resolve and made up for it with the decisive three-point play to save the Wolverines in an ugly 76-73 victory at Crisler Center.
“He's deserved a pretty high trust level at this point,” junior center Moritz Wagner said. “He's also very fast so it's his advantage just catching the ball and going basket to basket in two and a half seconds. Great move and that's what we need from our leader. I'm very happy the way he responded and stepped up.”
It’s the second time in three weeks Abdur-Rahkman has made a winning play in the final seconds and rescued Michigan with his late-game heroics.
In last month’s 68-67 win over Maryland, Michigan trailed by one with 3.2 seconds left and was on the brink of disaster. That was until Abdur-Rahkman calmly sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining after catching an inbounds pass near midcourt and immediately getting downhill to draw a foul in the lane.
Abdur-Rahkman said while Saturday’s scenario was a bit different, he still feels “pretty comfortable” having his number called when the game is hanging in the balance.
“When you shoot your foul shots with barely any time on the clock, that's one the most pressure feelings in basketball,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “It's easier dribbling down the court when you got a couple seconds left – it's not as much pressure. I’m a little bit more comfortable in those situations since I've experienced it.
“I wouldn't say that I've been in that positon before, but I've been in tight games, NCAA Tournament and stuff like that on the court so it's not a surprise. It's definitely something that's developing, but I just got to continue to grow in that situation and I'm not there yet.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said the crucial late-game moments isn’t just new territory for this season’s crop of top options – redshirt sophomore Charles Matthews, Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman – but the coaching staff as well.
"He's never been dialed up like this,” Beilein said. “Muhammad, Moe, they've never been dialed up like this. Charles has never been dialed up. It's on them to perform and they're embracing it, but we're learning from it as well. And I'm trying to learn what they can do and how I can put them in the best position to be successful because everybody plays us different.”
But so far, Abdur-Rahkman has proven to be at least one answer for Michigan.
The Maize Rage, Michigan’s student cheering section, celebrated “Poole Party Day” Saturday at Crisler Center in honor of freshman guard Jordan Poole.
Students wore swimming goggles, leis, Hawaiian shirts and floaties and brought beach balls and other inflatables to mark the occasion.
However, Poole didn’t make much of a splash on his themed day. He finished 0-for-4 from the field in 12 minutes and was held scoreless for the first time in 19 games.
“The Poole was closed tonight, I guess, for the winter,” Beilein quipped.