Ann Arbor — It’s closing time for Michigan.
More importantly, it’s the time of the year where the veteran Wolverines need to start taking the reins and kicking it into another gear with the regular-season winding down.
It’s a transition that’s starting to come to fruition with fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who hear the clock winding down on their careers.
“It’s their time right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after Wednesday’s 74-59 victory over Iowa. “I want them to shoot more, I want them to be more aggressive. It’s their time. They’ve worked really hard and they’ve been leading. They’ve been great captains, but they’ve also got to be the ones that are a little bit more aggressive both offensively and defensively.”
While neither Robinson or Abdur-Rahkman are “holler guys,” they take a more Trey Burke-like approach and lead by example, like they’ve done in back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Iowa.
Robinson proved how potent Michigan’s offense can be when he’s locked in. His four first-half 3-pointers helped stake the Wolverines to a 22-point halftime lead over Wisconsin, and his three deep balls in a 73-second second-half flurry — all off assists from Abdur-Rahkman — put Iowa in a hole from which it was never able to recover.
Over the past two games, Robinson has elevated his play, shooting 10-for-15 from 3-point range and recording at least 16 points in consecutive contests for the first time all season.
Meanwhile, Abdur-Rahkman continues to play smart — as evidenced by his 11 assists and no turnovers over the past two games and nation-leading 6.0 assist turnover ratio — while helping close out games and providing solid defense.
He helped seal the win at Wisconsin with seven free throws in the final 2:07 and scored half of Michigan’s final 16 points against Iowa.
“He’s a winning guy,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Abdur-Rahkman. “He never turns it over. He shoots it well enough from 3 to set up his drive. He’s a hard cover off the dribble. He’s always in the right place on defense. He plays bigger than he is.
“It gives them a lot of versatility. They can play him at the point. They can play him on the wing. He sticks his nose in there on the glass. He’s playing like a senior on a team that is having a great year.”
Throw in fellow captain and junior center Moritz Wagner, and the trio has combined to score 51 of Michigan’s 83 points against Wisconsin and 50 of its 74 points against Iowa.
They’re the type of big performances Michigan will need from its leaders as they inject energy and a sense of urgency into the rest of the team during a crucial final stretch against No. 8 Ohio State, Penn State and Maryland.
And it’s a burden Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner know they must carry if the Wolverines are going to have any hopes of making another deep run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
“We got a lot of responsibility, Muhammad and I specifically, and Moe being the other captain” Robinson said earlier this week. “Player-led teams are the ones that win late in the season, so that falls on our shoulders and we know that. We’ve acknowledged that, talked about it and moving forward we got to be the guys that are the loudest and setting the example for everyone else.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Tip-off: 1 p.m. Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: CBS/950 A.M.
Records: No. 8 Ohio State 22-6, 13-2 Big Ten; No. 22 Michigan 21-7, 10-5
Outlook: Michigan’s home finale with be a “Maize Out” and will honor its four seniors prior to the game … It’s the first meeting in the series both teams have been ranked since March 15, 2014 … Ohio State has won four of the past five meetings, including the last three.