Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Michigan 70, Maryland 67: Going downtown

Going downtown can be a good thing. One could be going downtown for a fun time, to see the sights.

Or, going downtown, in hokey police-speak, could mean you're in trouble, set for a night of heavy interrogation in a sterile, fluorescently lit room.

That was much of the story tonight against the visiting No. 3 Maryland Terrapins. In the first half, Michigan shot the lights out from downtown. In the second, not so much, to the point that it squandered a 13-point lead.

But when it came down to it, Derrick Walton (12 points, 10 rebounds), who hasn't had a great season to date, made big shots. And in the final minute, Mark Donnal pulled down a key offensive rebound and knocked down a free throw to help the Wolverines pull out their first win against a top-5 team since January 2014.

We all knew the story: in four games against top-notch competition, Michigan took four losses by double-digit margins.

And once again without Caris LeVert, the Wolverines tried to score their first statement win of the season. Just like the last game, a double-digit loss at Purdue, Michigan would have to overcome yet another major size mismatch in the paint against a Maryland team carrying a 12-game conference winning streak heading into the game (dating back to last season).

Fifth time's the charm, they say.

Michigan jumped out to an 11-6 lead early with triples from Walton, Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson (checked by the 6-9 Jake Layman).

Predictably, Michigan struggled to contain Maryland's frontcourters. Layman and Robert Carter combined for 20 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting.

Meanwhile, Michigan was paced, of course, by lights-out shooting from beyond the arc, with Duncan Robinson prompting Dick Vitale to start rattling off a list of all-time great three-point shooters.

(This sandwich I made is great. Zingerman's. Maize and Blue Deli. Dimo's. I want to see this sandwich one-on-one in a sandwich contest against these guys.-Dick Vitale)

Michigan finished the half 8-of-15 from three with an eFG% of 64 percent (to Maryland's 52%), and a buzzer-beating tip-in by Donnal off of an Irvin miss sent the Wolverines riding high into the half up 37-29.

Robinson kept the good vibes going with a triple in the first minute of the second-frame, and a gust of chilly Ann Arbor wind pushed Michigan to a 13-point lead a little more than three minutes into the second half.

That evaporated quickly.

Diamond Stone ground the Wolverines down in the paint, scoring eight straight points and cutting the Maryland deficit to four. Meanwhile, Robinson went quiet for Michigan -- actually, the entire Michigan offense went dead silent for a span of about eight minutes.

The threes were splashing in the first half, but the Wolverines would need to find an answer when they inevitably stopped falling (or, rather, stopped getting the looks) -- because just like that, a Layman two just before the under-eight timeout tied it, 54-all.

With 7:23 to play, Michigan needed to find itself, fast, especially with Stone continuing to bully Michigan inside like a Monstar in isolation on Tweety Bird.

A nifty two at the rim from Robinson and a Burke-esque step-back triple from Walton gave Michigan some breathing room, a 64-59 lead with 3:33 to play. Walton has struggled this season on both ends of the floor, but hit the aforementioned triple and another jumper to keep Michigan afloat after the long scoring shortage.

But two Rasheed Sulaimon triples and two Stone free throws made it a two-point game with 40 seconds to play.

Not over yet.

With Maryland getting an opportunity to get the ball back after a stop, Walton drove left but missed off the glass. Luckily for Michigan, Donnal was there to grab the rebound.

Out of the Michigan timeout, Donnal buried 1-of-2 free throws to make it a three-point game. Michigan opted not to foul on Maryland's final possession, with a game-ending attempt by Sulaimon.

This time, Sulaimon missed, and Michigan scored its first resume-building win of the season, even without its leading scorer.

Perhaps lost in Stone's dominance (22 points, 11 rebounds) was Trimble's rough night (1-of-7, 2 points). Michigan clamped down on the standout guard, and shooting guard Sulaimon finished just 3-of-10, even with the two late triples.

Unsurprisingly, Michigan was handled in the frontcourt. Carter, Layman and Stone combined for 50 points on 21-of-34 shooting (62%).

Michigan counteracted that with a blazing first-half from beyond the arc, and a final six minutes in which they made just enough plays to squeak by with the win. Irvin led the Wolverines with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Robinson finished with 17 (6-of-10, 5-of-9 from three).

Donnal pitched in eight points, nine rebounds and two steals.

With the win, Michigan moved to 13-4 (3-1) on the season. The Wolverines' brutal three-game stretch comes to an end Sunday when they pay a visit to No. 16 Iowa.

But for now, on a night of upsets in college basketball, it's okay to celebrate and worry about the rest later.

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