Abdur-Rahkman on a Walton-like surge for Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

College Park, Md. — It’s a story Michigan has seen unfold before.

A senior guard seemingly putting everything together and playing the best basketball of his career heading into the postseason.

Following Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s career-high 28-point effort in Saturday’s 85-61 win over Maryland at Xfinity Center, Michigan coach John Beilein couldn’t help but compare Abdur-Rahkman’s late-season ascent to former Wolverine Derrick Walton Jr.

Abdur-Rahkman was humbled by the lofty praise, especially since Walton was playing at a completely different level than most players in the nation during last season’s Big Ten tournament and NCAA Tournament runs.

“It’s good because (Walton) was playing well at that time,” said Abdur-Rahkman, who wore rec specs after being poked in the eye prior to Wednesday’s game at Penn State. “I mean, he is a close friend so I see it as only good. Hopefully, I can continue to keep playing like that.”

While it’s a dangerous parallel to make considering Walton was able to lead Michigan to the Big Ten tournament title and the Sweet 16, it was hard not to see the similarities in the efficiency, the distribution and the impact Abdur-Rahkman put on display.

When the Wolverines sputtered out the gate, Abdur-Rahkman helped get the ball rolling by knocking down Michigan’s first three field goals — all from beyond the arc.

During Michigan’s momentous 28-6 run to close out the first half, Abdur-Rahkman scored or assisted on the team’s final seven made field goals that culminated in a 30-point halftime lead.

Then when Maryland began to chip away in the second half, Abdur-Rahkman kept his foot on the Terrapins’ throat and showed a killer instinct. He made an extra pass that led an open Duncan Robinson 3-pointer to snap an 8-0 run and scored on a driving layup immediately after Maryland cut the deficit to 19 with 5:37 to play — the first and only time Michigan’s lead dipped under 20 in the second half.

When all was said and done, Abdur-Rahkman flirted with a triple-double and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists. He also added two blocks and a steal on defense.

“I called Muhammed over (in the first half) and I said, ‘You’re doing a D Walt impersonation at just the right time,’” Beilein said. “This is huge because as you see even with that big lead, you got to have a guy who will step up and make a basket or drive when you need to drive. I mean, I feel very good right now.

“He’s wearing those goggles and we should all wear goggles. That was great.”

Beilein said as he and his coaching staff were trying to find out how to cater to each player’s strengths, they came to the realization that Abdur-Rahkman was evolving into something more than just a solid role player.

So, Beilein recently made a change to have the offense go through Abdur-Rahkman more as he continues to play with confidence and an increased sense of comfort when opponents switch screens on defense.

“It’s the great part about college basketball when you hit it right and a kid will not transfer because he’s not a star after two years, he’s not begging to go to the NBA,” Beilein said. “He gets better every year and all of a sudden in February, (Abdur-Rahkman) can have a great February.”

And if the upward trend continues, possibly even a similar stellar March.

Getting back on track

Redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews took a step in the right direction following his scoreless outing Wednesday at Penn State.

More: UM’s Charles Matthews missing his ‘swag’ during slump

Matthews finished with 11 points — all coming in the second half — five rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes. After missing his lone shot attempt in the first half, Matthews was 4-for-5 from the floor in the final stanza, scoring on a pair of layups and 3-pointers.

Over the previous five games, Matthews was averaging just 6.4 points and shooting 34.1 percent (14-for-41) from the field, including 11.1 percent (1-for-9) from 3-point range.

“That was big,” Beilein said. “He’s worked on it. He’s working after practice. He’s been working on his own. He’s been working with the coaching staff and it’s just big to have him do that.

“Every day there’s these great strides and then a step backward with taking care of the ball or missing something … He’s getting there, but it’s a process he’s going through.”

Slam dunks

Abdur-Rahkman briefly left the game in early in the second half after taking a shot to the face. As it turns out, it was friendly fire.

“Moe (Wagner) hit me when he was trying to contest a layup,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “He hit me and almost broke my glasses and my contact (lens) came out. Somehow I caught it with my right hand.”

Abdur-Rahkman said he will continue to wear rec specs as a precautionary measure because his left eye is still bloodshot.

… Beilein said tomorrow will mark the first Sunday the team will have off since the New Year.

… Grad transfer Jaaron Simmons scored a season-high seven points within a 94-second span in the first half.