Subs help Michigan get past whistle issues in OT victory

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

New York — Michigan senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had to stop and think about the question.

When was the last time he fouled out of a game?

“Last one I can remember, I think, was my freshman year at Michigan State,” Abdur-Rahkman said following Michigan’s 77-71 overtime win over Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. “I think I fouled out. I’m not sure.”

Abdur-Rahkman was close. Most recently, he fouled out his sophomore year against Indiana in the conference tournament. But it can be hard to forget when those are the only two times in 134 career games he picked up five fouls in the same contest.

Abdur-Rahkman added a rare third instance to the list when he drew his fifth foul against Iowa with 2:34 remaining in overtime in a game that was riddled with whistles and slowed to a crawl at times.

Overall, 46 fouls were called in the contest — 24 against Iowa and 22 against Michigan. The 22 fouls were the second most the Wolverines committed this season, trailing only the 25 they were called for in their rivalry meeting at Michigan State on Jan. 13.

“A lot of whistles and I’m not going to even look at some of those calls,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We had good officials here, but there are some things I would look at again. But when you got Moe Wagner and Muhammad in there involved in things like that, it certainly takes a lot away from our game and a lot of things. But I got to respect the officials’ calls.”

Michigan entered the game ranked 15th in the nation in fewest personal fouls committed with 15.3 per game. But by halftime, the Wolverines had racked up nine fouls with two each by fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner, who could only watch from the bench as Iowa used a 14-4 run over the final four minutes to take a 40-35 lead into halftime.

Michigan didn’t fare any better in the second half, which forced Beilein to juggle his lineup over the final 20 minutes and in overtime, particularly when Wagner was the first Wolverine to foul out with 4:37 remaining in regulation.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating when you can’t help your team,” said Wagner, who fouled out for the third time this season and tied a season low with 16 minutes. “You got to find a way to stay with it and I think it sucks, but sometimes it goes that way.

“Maybe we worried about it a little too much today, but that’s not part of it. We have everything under control and we have to control the things we can, whether that’s our attitude, our approach and our effort. That was a lot better the last 10 minutes.”

With Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman saddled with foul trouble the majority of the game, it forced sophomore center Jon Teske, freshman Jordan Poole and Robinson to take on larger roles and extended minutes. The trio each played at least 27 minutes and combined for 20 points, 18 rebounds, four steals and two blocks.

It was the first time all season two players fouled out in the same game for Michigan and just the sixth time overall.

“We haven’t had that all year long. We haven’t had three guys in foul trouble in the first half, and our situation in the second half, with guys fouling out,” Beilein said. “There were some tough breaks. And, yeah, we just had to try and find ways.

“But we felt Jon was still, his presence in there was good enough. Jordan Poole did not have a very good game. But at the same time, he’s capable of that. And we went with those. We played Duncan as a three man a little bit. And it all worked out. But we want to stay away from that situation.”

Livers’ lift

Freshman forward Isaiah Livers had his most productive offensive game since suffering a left ankle injury at Northwestern last month.

He finished with nine points with 3-for-5 shooting on a mid-range jumper, layup and dunk. He also knocked down three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer early in the first half.

Over the previous four games, Livers had scored just five points and shot 1-for-6 from the floor.

“I’m not going to say the injury threw me. I just got to get my head back in the game and just keep playing,” Livers said. “How I played today is how I need to play every game.

“It feels great to finally get back into flow of the offense and get more confidence. I think it’s going to help a lot more. I know can play well on the defensive end; I just got to bring the offense.”

Slam dunks

The Wolverines improved to 11-0 in their first game of the Big Ten tournament under Beilein and 6-0 all-time against Iowa.

…Michigan’s three made 3-pointers and 15.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc were both season lows. Robinson finished 3-for-6 from beyond the arc and the rest of the team was a combined 0-for-13.

...Michigan's 14 missed free throws (18-for-32) tied for the second most in game this season.

No. 15 Michigan vs. Nebraska

Tip-off: 2:30 p.m. Friday, Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/radio: BTN/WWJ 950

Records: Michigan 25-7; Nebraska 22-9

Outlook: Nebraska won the only meeting between the teams this season, 72-52 in Lincoln on Jan. 18. Michigan made just 4-of-18 from 3-point range in that game and shot 37.5 percent (21-of-56) from the floor.  … Michigan had been 8-0 against the Cornhuskers since they entered the Big Ten in 2011.