NEW YORK CITY — Since returning to the starting lineup after missing the Michigan men’s basketball team’s exhibition opener with an ankle injury, junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has stepped up when the Wolverines needed him. And his timely play traveled with him all the way to New York City on Friday, as Michigan topped Marquette, 79-61, in the semifinal round of the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Against Howard last Friday, the Wolverines failed to score for the opening five minutes of the game. Opportunities came and went, and Michigan couldn’t capitalize, so Abdur-Rahkman took matters into his own hands. Knocking down back-to-back triples just 30 seconds apart, Abdur-Rahkman not only put Michigan on the board, but tied the game at six to stop the Bison in their tracks.
Against IUPUI the following Sunday, Abdur-Rahkman played all but four minutes for the Wolverines, finishing among the team’s top scorers with 12 points. Adding two rebounds, two steals and a block for good measure, Abdur-Rahkman made his presence felt all over the floor in a comfortable win.
When senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. committed two quick fouls and had to sit out the majority of the first half Thursday night against Marquette, it came as no surprise that Abdur-Rahkman shouldered the burden for Michigan.
“With Derrick gone, not only did he need to look to score a little bit more, he had to run the team a little bit with (freshman guard Xavier Simpson),” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “(Simpson) is still getting some of the timing on some of our stuff, and so he was really running like half a point guard at that time.
“So as he was out there, that was what I was thinking — ‘All right, if we ever have these injuries again, or we have two point guards out, can Muhammad fulfill this role?’ And he did at times today.”
In an opening half in which the Wolverines simply ran away from the Golden Eagles, Abdur-Rahkman guided the offensive explosion by assuming the point guard role and facilitating the run of play. While Michigan led by double digits for much of that stretch, Abdur-Rahkman poured in 11 points, seven of which came from the free-throw line.
Adopting a more aggressive approach than he has shown so far this season, Abdur-Rahkman pressured Marquette’s defense relentlessly. Driving to the basket continuously, he cut through the Golden Eagles left and right to open up space in the middle for himself and his teammates. His up-tempo tone fed into his defensive mindset as well, forcing a pair of steals to launch counterattacks on the other end.
“I think Muhammad did a great job bringing the ball up, getting us set on offense and also being aggressive as well,” said senior forward Zak Irvin. “So it’s huge when you have other players who can step up when Derrick isn’t in the game.”
By the time the half came to its conclusion, the Wolverines held a 50-26 advantage and never looked back. Though Abdur-Rahkman scored just four points in the second half, he had already done his part. Michigan advanced to the championship round of the 2K Classic.