Niyo: Duncan’s dead-eye shooting ignites Michigan hopes

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It’s more of an echo than an alarm. But the good news for Duncan Robinson is that the voices inside his head don’t sound much different than ones everyone else hears.

In fact, they all carry the same message. And it’s really just a simple request.

“Shoot the ball, shoot the ball, shoot the ball,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.

Beilein says it almost every day in practice, as Robinson buries shot after shot. He says it before games, as assistant coach DeAndre Haynes puts him through his paces, and after them, as he gives the scoresheet a quick scan. Beilein even scolded Robinson on Wednesday night, after the Wolverines’ fifth-year senior sharpshooter drilled a season-best six 3-pointers in eight attempts to spark No. 22 Michigan’s 74-59 win over Iowa at Crisler Center.

“Yeah,” Robinson said, smiling. “He was actually on me after this game to shoot more.”

And why wouldn’t he, given what he knows? Robinson shifted to a sixth-man role earlier this winter to make room for freshman Isaiah Livers in the starting lineup. But he remains a vital weapon for Michigan’s tantalizing offense. A firing pin, if you will, considering the Wolverines are now 18-0 when Robinson scores six points or more this season — and they’re 3-7 when he doesn’t.

It’s more than that, though. More than just the confidence the veteran coach has in Robinson’s smooth stroke and rapid-fire ability, which was on display again the other day in practice. The goal in this Beilein shooting drill was to make 48 three-pointers in four minutes, which is even harder than it sounds.


“It’s like a sprint drill,” Beilein said, “and he just goes bang, bang, bang, bang.”

When he was done, and dead tired, Robinson had made 50 3s — in 55 shots.

So it was no surprise to any of his teammates Wednesday, when Robinson drained his first two 3-pointers on back-to-back trips down court midway through the first half as the Wolverines built a double-digit lead.

Or when he hit three more in three consecutive possessions in a span of 73 seconds midway through the second half — bang, bang, bang — to turn the game into a rout, chest-bumping his way back to the bench as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery dejectedly called a timeout.

“No, he does that every day in practice,” point guard Jaaron Simmons said.

And it’s what he’s done the last two games now, with 10 3-pointers and 34 points combined in his last two games against Wisconsin and Iowa, finding his rhythm at just the right time, perhaps.

Speculate to accumulate

“It’s what he expects,” Beilein said. “It’s what I expect. And he’s not gonna make ’em if he doesn’t take ’em.”

But Robinson isn’t just taking and making shots lately. He’s limiting them at the other end of the court as well, playing some solid defense Wednesday night on Tyler Cook, the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer. Cook, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the first meeting between these two teams in Iowa City back in early January.

More:Beilein hopes torrid touch follows Michigan home

But he was just 2-of-6 from the field in this one, before taking it to Robinson and getting to the free-throw line on consecutive possessions with less than 8 minutes to go, drawing Robinson’s third and fourth fouls. That sent Beilein to the bench to bring Livers back in, giving Robinson the rest of the night off. Yet after the game, the effort certainly wasn’t lost on the head coach.

“The job that Duncan is doing right now on strong 4-men is really something,” Beilein said of Robinson, who was giving up 40 pounds to Cook in the paint. “It reminds me of Zak Irvin when we’d give him a mismatch by weight and he’d just outwork the other guy. For (Robinson) to be matched up on Cook most of the night and hold him to 10 points and score 18 himself, that’s a pretty good day.”

And for Robinson, a senior down to the final home game of his career Sunday against Ohio State, that’s part of the deal right now. He knows his days are numbered, just as he knows how far he has come.

DIII to the Big Ten

Robinson is the first Division III player ever to transfer here with a scholarship in hand, taking a leap of faith in his own abilities when he left Williams College after his freshman year to jump to the Big Ten. But through it all, from the early struggles and serious doubts and all the intermittent playing time over the last three seasons, Robinson says there’s been one constant. And that’s Beilein’s affirmation of his own thoughts.

“He’s always in the back of my mind,” Robinson said. “Just because he’s always been that voice of assurance and confidence. I’m incredibly thankful for that. I know a lot of coaches aren’t like that. But he really believes in me, and so do my teammates. I mean, they yell at me when I don’t shoot an open one. So it’s everybody, not just myself being aggressive there. They’re all helping me do that.”

He probably won’t need much help from here, though.

“You’re kind of looking at it like it’s now or never,” he said. “You see the time ticking down on your career and you’ve got to have a heightened sense of urgency about wanting to leave a mark.”

Not necessarily as an individual, though when asked Wednesday night how he’d like to be remembered when he’s gone, Robinson answered thoughtfully, “I’d like to be remembered as a talented overachiever.” No, it’s more as a team, because as Beilein often says, Robinson’s “the ultimate team guy.”

“And I understand that if we want to do something this year and leave a mark, it falls on us — the captains and older guys — to kind of shoulder that responsibility,” he said.

So if this is his last shot coming, he'll take it. And the way Duncan Robinson is feeling right now, it sounds like he's not he only one who expects him to make it.