Relentless Michigan 'D' smothers Rutgers

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It’s a stat not often seen in the box score following a 40-minute game: one assist.

Fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson can’t recall ever playing in a game where a team finished with a number so low and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman didn’t even realize it till afterward.

But that was the case following No. 23 Michigan’s sound defensive effort in a 62-47 win over Rutgers Sunday at Crisler Center. The Scarlet Knights shot 33.3 percent (17-for-51) from the field and assisted on just one of their 17 made baskets.

“We had to lock down individually,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “This is a great team of guys that can get their own shot and you got to have good defensive guards to do that.

“Both Zavier (Simpson) and Muhammad – you saw (Rutgers guard) Corey Sanders had a tremendous game up at Michigan State, how he got his own shot. He was almost unstoppable. Now Zavier did a great job on him and Muhammad with (Rutgers guard Geo) Baker did a great job on him.”

Against Michigan State on Jan. 10, Sanders shot 9-for-23 from the field and scored 22 points — his second-highest scoring game of the season — with four assists and one turnover.

On Sunday, Sanders finished with a team-high 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting (6-for-9 on free throws) with three turnovers and no assists, while Baker had eight points and shot 4-for-10 from the field.

“We were just trying to shut down their offense as much as possible,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We knew that they were a big one-on-one team with Corey Sanders and Baker. We just wanted to lock in defensively and try to stop them as best as we could.

“In the flow of the game you don't really realize (they have one assist). You're just trying to shut down your man and try not to let them score.”

According to junior center Moritz Wagner, the key on defense was walling everything up, being in gaps and keeping Rutgers off the boards.

“We were trying to take the 3-point line away and they have the tendency to go into one-and-one plays once you take the first play away,” Wagner said. “At least that's what we scouted and our guards, especially, did a great job.”

Rutgers entered the game averaging 11.5 assists per game, which ranked 321st in the nation. Its previous season low was six assists earlier this month against both Purdue and Ohio State.

“They did a tremendous job and we faced defenses like this, too, in the past but we didn't move the ball side to side and we weren't as sharp as we needed to be,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “But even the looks that we got, we didn't capitalize on them.”

Simmons on the rise

Grad transfer Jaaron Simmons was the first point guard off the bench — ahead of freshman Eli Brooks — and played a key role in Michigan’s 17-2 first-half run that helped turned a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead.

Simmons finished with two points on 1-for-4 shooting but had a pair of 3-pointers rattle out. He added two rebounds, an assist, a steal and a turnover in eight minutes.

“Even though he didn't make his shots, all of them looked good and I told him to keep shooting,” Wagner said. “We all know he can hoop and I've been very impressed with the way he's handling the adversity he had this year. That's a sign of a great teammate and he doesn't care about any personal agendas. He just plays and he's been very valuable for us.”

According to Beilein, the decision to play Simmons over Brooks, who received a DNP for the first time this season, is two-fold: Brooks needs to regain his confidence and Simmons has been playing better in practice.

“In practice and games, Eli was not himself,” Beilein said. “He was asking for permission, he was tentative where Jaaron we put him on the scout team and he did some really good things.

“We just made that flip and let Eli watch the game a little bit and let Jaaron go…He makes a couple 3s that he makes in practice, I think we're talking about him a lot more right now.”

Slam dunks

Beilein, his coaching staff and the BTN TV crew wore Team IMPACT bow ties to help raise awareness for UM draftee Jude Stamper’s Arthrogryposis Multi-Congenital disorder with Escobar Syndrome.

Stamper, who was signed by Beilein in a special ceremony in November, was given a jersey from Maize Rage, Michigan’s student section, prior to the game.

“This young man, Jude Stamper, has just been the light of our lives,” Beilein said. “He comes to practice, he smiles every day. He's got incredible challenges and our kids love him.

“We don't do this a lot but with Martin Luther King Day and this — last year it was ChadTough — when we get these isolated incidents to make a statement I think that's part of our team's purpose is to be a good example.”

… Entering Sunday’s game, Rutgers ranked sixth in the nation in total rebounds (41) and eighth in offensive rebounds per game (14). The Scarlet Knights finished with 33 total rebounds and seven offensive boards.

“They don't shoot a high percentage, so they're going to get a high number of offensive rebounds,” Beilein said. “They got some in the first half, two in the second half when they shot another low percentage, which was big for us.”

…Sunday’s game was also an alumni reunion with Rudy Tomjanovich, Glen Rice, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Maceo Baston and Antonie Joubert among the former Wolverines on hand.

… Michigan senior guard Katelynn Flaherty was honored during the first half for passing Rice’s all-time scoring mark of 2,442 points. Flaherty bested Rice’s record for any Michigan male or female basketball player earlier this month and was presented with a ball by Rice during a timeout. She currently has 2,505 career points.