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LeVert’s instincts lead Michigan to victory

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 15, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Caris LeVert wasn’t supposed to be there.

As the shot clock wound down with Michigan leading by two, sophomore guard Nik Stauskas rose from the top of the key to shoot.

Alone in the left corner stood LeVert.

Everyone on the bench — Michigan coach John Beilein, the assistant coaches and players — screamed for the sophomore guard to get back on defense, but LeVert went to the offensive glass.

As a guard, it’s not part of LeVert’s responsibilities to crash the offensive boards. As a guard, it’s LeVert’s responsibility to get into the middle of the court and halt the ensuing transition play by the offense.

But on Saturday, in No. 8 Michigan’s 72-69 win over Ohio State, LeVert ran toward his own basket instead of back toward Ohio State’s.

In what would turn out to be arguably the most critical play in the Wolverine (15-3 Big Ten, 25-7 overall) win, LeVert did what he wasn’t suppose to do. So why did he do it?

“It was just instinctive,” he said.

Noticing his defender shying away from him and move toward Stauskas at the elbow, LeVert ran to the paint.

In that moment as Stauskas unleashed a triple attempt from the top of the arc, just before the ball left Stauskas’ hand, he took off.

“I knew my guy wasn’t going to box me out there,” he said. “I knew if Nik (Stauskas) missed, like he did, I would be able to get the rebound.

“So I went for it.”

The play may stand out since it almost clinched the game, as it led to a pair of free throws for sophomore guard Spike Albrecht with six seconds left, LeVert’s play on the offensive boards was prominent in Michigan’s win against Illinois on Friday.

When Michigan trailed by three with 3:50 left, LeVert did the exact same thing. Again with Stauskas shooting a 3-pointer, LeVert was there, underneath the basket, fighting for the ball.

Instead of passing the ball out to Albrecht to get fouled on Saturday, though, he found freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. behind the arc open.

Walton knocked down the attempt to tie the game up.

Perhaps LeVert’s rebound was lost in Friday’s game thanks to fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan’s game-winning basket with less than 10 seconds remaining for some. But on Saturday, the play was easy to recall for Beilein, LeVert and company in postgame.

In both instances, the offensive rebound proved to be the only one of that kind for Levert for that game.

Beilein has called some plays this season for Michigan to be filled with a “lot of luck” but at the same time he admits such bounces, baskets, moments have to do with the Wolverines “(making) our own luck.”

For Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan, the play by LeVert was one he constantly preaches to his players, especially the guards.

“You have to know when to run a play, when to be a player,” he said. “There’s a healthy balance. You can’t be reckless and go outside the framework at any time. But there’s times when you have to audible and do what your instincts tell you to do.”

Though to LeVert, the offensive rebound was “probably the biggest one” in his career, that doesn’t mean he will do that same routine every time a shot goes toward the basket.

“He’ll get a pass on that one,” Beilein said. “That’s for sure.”

Though Jordan said that might not be the case depending on what the team sees in film.

“We may need to reevaluate who crashes and who gets back on defense,” he said.