Exclusive interview: Santa Ono opens up on life, what he'll bring to UM

UM's Robinson rises to occasion with long-range finesse

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan's Duncan Robinson puts in a shot over Tre Demps (14).  Robinson led all scorers with 21 points in the game.

Indianapolis — Duncan Robinson has been a big story this year, both for his hot start and recent struggles.

Coach John Beilein said Robinson, coming to the rough-and-tumble Big Ten from Division III Williams College, hadn't hit a wall, then said he had — and, finally, he threatened Robinson with not making the trip to Maryland if the player didn't stay out of the gym for one stinking day.

Beilein never hinted he was joking.

Robinson had his biggest game in quite some time Thursday, helping Michigan to a 72-70 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament.

He finished with 21 points, his most in a game since January, and he made four 3s, his most in a game since early February.

"I just think when he makes his first or second shot, he may be a little bit, have more energy to shoot it again, a better attitude to shoot it again," Beilein said.

Robinson made his first 3-point attempt in the game, and had 14 first-half points as Michigan jumped out to a 35-24 halftime lead.

He didn't score again until there were three second left, when he went to the free-throw line.

�He loves the moment�: Irvin rescues UM in OT

A 94-percent free-throw shooter coming into the game, Beilein never even considered Robinson wouldn't make them both to extend the lead to three. He made the first, then bricked the second.

Northwestern's Alex Olah made a shot with under a second left in regulation to send the game into overtime.

"I expect to make them all," Robinson said. "Obviously, that's not gonna happen. Credit to my teammates, they picked me up."

So did Beilein.

During the break between the end of regulation and the start of overtime, Beilein looked right at Robinson and said:

"We're going right back to you."

He wasn't kidding.

Derrick Walton Jr. found Robinson in the corner at the start of overtime, and Robinson, on his very next touch after missing such a pivotal free throw, drained the 3-pointer to get Michigan — stunned by the happenings at the end of regulation — a much-needed boost.

Robinson then made another 3 with 46 seconds left to tie the game.

He was 4-for-6 on 3s. In his previous five games, he was 13-for-39.

In nonconference play, he shot better than 60 percent on 3s.

Confidence is key, he said. But missing shots is part of basketball, too.

"I was just trying to stay consistent, stay the course," Robinson said. "Long season like that, you're going to have ups and downs."

Said Beilein: "We needed to pick everybody up. He was one of the guys we looked in the eye and said, 'You're going to bounce back and help us win this game.'"

Underdog role

Few folks will give Michigan a chance at beating top-seeded Indiana at noon Friday, given how the Hoosiers smoked the Wolverines at Crisler Center this season.

But Beilein has made it a point to talk to his team about how the seemingly impossible can become possible this time of year.

"We told these guys anything can happen during this week," Beilein said. "We tell them stories about teams, and watching what Holy Cross did last night with four road wins, anything can happen.

"Nothing's predetermined right now."

Beating Indiana likely puts Michigan in the NCAA Tournament; losing, and the Wolverines likely are NIT-bound.

This much is certain: Michigan will have to defend a lot better than it did back in January, when Indiana, so good in transition, put together an eye-popping 29-0 run, including 25-0 to end the first half.

Stopping Yogi Ferrell — whom Beilein considers maybe the post point guard he's seen while coaching in the Big Ten — is paramount.

Defense isn't Michigan's strong suit, but the Wolverines have had their moments, however rare — including against Northwestern in the first half Thursday, and late in the victory Purdue earlier this season.

"Five guys out there that can all shoot for Indiana," Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. "Everybody has to buy into defense. I think if you buy in, you can play better defense than you are."

Foul feeling

Mark Donnal became the second Wolverine to foul out of a game this season, picking up his fifth foul at a crucial juncture in overtime.

Michigan had just picked up a steal and Zak Irvin saved the ball by chucking it to Donnal, who moved it up court.

But a late whistle came in, and Donnal was gone with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in overtime.

"I had just one hand on him and pushed off him," Donnal said. "It was kind of a late foul call. That's the way things go."

Instead of Michigan ball up four, Northwestern had the ball -- and Tre Demps drained a 3-pointer to cut Michigan's lead to one.

Demps followed with another score, a layup, to give the Wildcats the lead.

It was a helpless feeling for Donnal, who's playing such a huge role in Michigan even having a chance to be in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's definitely not fun," Donnal said. "It's not an ideal situation to be in.

"I've just gotta learn from it, and encourage my teammates when there's nothing I can do."

Slam dunks

Northwestern (20-12) had the first 20-win regular season of its history, and there's a shot the season isn't yet over — even if the Wildcats won't get the first NCAA Tournament bid of their history.

"The hope the league will fight for us the way they fight for other teams," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.

...  Andrew Dakich hit his first 3-pointer of the season, a nothing-but-net shot as the shot clock was approaching zero in the first half. He also had a rebound and an assist, on a Kam Chatman 3-pointer in the second half, also up against the shot clock.

... Irvin describing his winning shot: "When you're a little kid and you're out in your backyard counting down, '5-4-3-2-1,' it just felt like that right when I got the ball. When it left my hand, it felt good."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984