WEST LAFAYETTE — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania — close enough to the Atlantic Ocean, in Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein’s estimation, to qualify him as a basketball player of the “East Coast” variety.
Or, translated from Beilein-ism to English: On certain nights, Abdur-Rahkman can essentially score at will.
“He’s got this ability — I call it an East Coast type of thing — where he can get buckets in the rim, in the rain, outdoors, indoors, crooked rim, anything,” Beilein said Thursday after Michigan’s 87-70 loss at Purdue. “He just can find ways to score.”
It certainly seemed that way, as Abdur-Rahkman dropped a career-high 25 points and almost singlehandedly kept Michigan close in a game that, despite the lopsided final score, remained competitive through its first 34 minutes.
The outburst eclipsed the sophomore’s previous career best of 18 last season at Michigan State, a game that forced Abdur-Rahkman into the spotlight with then-junior guard Caris LeVert sidelined by a fractured foot.
Eleven months later, with LeVert nursing an injury to his left leg once again, Abdur-Rahkman went a step further. Undaunted by the Boilermakers’ size, he took the ball to the rack repeatedly, lowering his shoulder and refusing to shy away from contact even in the face of his defenders’ chests.
Though Abdur-Rahkman found ways to score last season, attempting to replace LeVert’s production for the first time, this type of performance on the offensive end was out of the question.
“Last year, early in the year, any time there was body contact, he wasn’t finishing,” Beilein said. “He’s probably made the best (season-to-season) jump. He just really takes it at you.”
Abdur-Rahkman finished through contact, and when he did bounce away from a body-to-body blow, he seemed to always finish — most notably with a pair of twisting, turning layups on consecutive possessions early in the second half that kissed high off the glass before finding their way down. He got the job done outside the paint as well, bookending his performance with 3-pointers early in the first half and late in the second.
The ability to avoid the outstretched arms of Purdue’s outsized front line was no accident. Michigan spent the week leading up to the game practicing with what Beilein called “the old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sticks” — tools players hold in practice, sometimes with pads attached to the ends, to artificially elongate their reach, forcing them to focus on shooting over or around them.
“We were practicing a lot with the pads and things like that,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We were prepared for the length. It was nothing new. It was just like playing in practice.”
There’s no way to truly prepare for a game against a team with multiple 7-footers in a hostile Big Ten arena, especially as a 6-foot-4 guard. But somehow, Abdur-Rahkman’s shooting kept the Mackey Arena crowd of 13,063 grumbling throughout the second half, keeping Michigan alive as Purdue threatened to pull away.
“I’m usually left open,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I just try to knock down shots and keep the same game plan as usual.”
Abdur-Rahkman was guarded closely far more often than he was left open Thursday, but regardless of his defenders, he may have to stick to the game plan a while longer. Beilein, as usual, gave few specifics as to LeVert’s status, saying merely that he participated in shootaround, experienced pain and did not play. But whether LeVert is out for another game or for another month, Abdur-Rahkman’s ability to shoulder the scoring load should provide at least some solace.