Before the Michigan men’s basketball team’s Tuesday night showdown with No. 3 Maryland, the students filling the Maize Rage stood, cheered and waved their thousands of blue LED glow sticks. But it’s hard to believe they were expecting too much from the game itself.
After all, the Wolverines were without senior guard Caris LeVert for the third straight game, and they were facing a lineup loaded with stars like preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble, versatile wing Jake Layman and highly touted freshman center Diamond Stone.
But two hours later, after a huge night from junior forward Zak Irvin, a first-half 3-point barrage and a second-half reawakening, the same students were waving the glow sticks in the air again after their Wolverines upset the Terrapins in a 70-67 thriller.
“It just feels good to get this win today, against a really good team with a lot of weapons,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Everybody contributed, and I’m really happy for this team and our students. I really want (the students) to have this great experience of going to see a good basketball team, and for a lot of reasons, we haven’t been as good the last two years.”
The Wolverines (3-1 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) jumped out to an early lead thanks to eight first-half 3-pointers, but the Terrapins — led by Stone and his 22 points and 11 rebounds — used their size advantage to quickly get back into the game, tying it at 54 with 7:33 remaining.
Though Michigan’s offense nearly collapsed in the second half with two scoring droughts of over three minutes each, it came back to life at the right time.
Junior forward Mark Donnal converted an and-1 play to give the Wolverines a 59-57 lead, redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson sank a difficult underhanded reverse layup and junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. buried a 3-pointer to extend the lead.
Maryland (4-1, 15-2) rallied furiously in the closing minutes, with guard Rasheed Sulaimon sinking two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Stone knocking down two free throws to cut the lead to two. But Donnal grabbed a crucial offensive rebound and made one of two shots at the foul line on Michigan’s next possession, which was followed up by a missed triple from Sulaimon just before the buzzer to give the Wolverines the upset win.
Irvin — who Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said his team “couldn’t guard” tonight — finished the game with 22 points, Robinson added 17 and Michigan hit 12 3-pointers, the most the Terrapins have allowed in a game all season.
In Beilein’s mind, the victory was a glimpse of the full potential of Irvin and Walton — two players who have been forced into important roles since they were sophomores, and two players who were tasked with closing out the game as the most experienced leaders on the court.
“This is that next step for them,” Beilein said. “It’s the feeling right now that (they can be like) Tim Hardaway, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert — make a big play to win the game.”
Even without LeVert — the Wolverines’ leading scorer, rebounder and assist man — Michigan initially had little trouble getting off to a quick start, thanks in no small part to the 3-pointer.
After Maryland bullied its way to four points off two offensive rebounds to start the game, the Wolverines turned to the outside, where Walton, Irvin and Robinson buried three straight triples to give Michigan an 11-6 lead and get the Crisler Center crowd involved early.
Maryland was without Trimble for much of the first half, as he exited the game with two fouls with 9:40 remaining. He finished the game with just two points.
The first half ended in a 3-point battle, with Maryland forward Robert Carter Jr. knocking down a shot-clock-beating triple to give Maryland a 22-21 lead and Layman hitting a trey of his own a few moments later. But Robinson answered every blow, hitting three 3-pointers in less than three minutes to retake a five-point lead.
The Wolverines still couldn’t match the Terrapins’ size early on — they were outrebounded 16-12 in the opening frame and 36-27 in total — but they stepped up the effort and physicality. Before he closed the game with the offensive rebound, Donnal ended the first half on an outstanding stretch in which he blocked Sulaimon and Carter on back-to-back possessions and tipped in a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Michigan a 37-29 lead at the half.
The Wolverines nearly gave that lead away in the second frame, but after a few more timely threes and free throws, they secured their biggest win of the season.
“This is the Big Ten. It’s gonna be a dogfight each game,” Irvin said. “I think teams are overlooking us with (senior guard Spike Albrecht) and Caris out, and we’ve just got to let everyone know we are a good ballclub without them.”