DAYTON, Ohio — When the Michigan men’s basketball team was desperate, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was there to save it.
With just under four minutes left in the Wolverines’ First Four matchup against Tulsa in Dayton, Ohio, the sophomore guard had the ball in his hands on the left side of the perimeter. Michigan stood with a one-point deficit after the Golden Hurricane had rid the Wolverines of their eight-point halftime lead, and Abdur-Rahkman was determined to take it back. He put his head down and launched toward the rim looking to drive, but when Tulsa’s defense didn’t give him room, he hit the breaks and faded away. The ball left his hands with just enough finesse, making its way from guard, to glass to net.
The big-time bucket put Michigan up one en route to grinding out a gritty win against the Golden Hurricane.
It was the type of hard-nosed, head-down attack offense that Michigan needed after failing to find any rhythm from deep early on. The Wolverines shot 4-for-18 from 3-point range in the first half.
“In the first half, their gap defense was really good, we couldn’t get around them,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “They can stay in front, so they made us settle for 3s in the first half. So we were trying to get downhill as much we could (in the second half). We couldn’t get (junior guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin) downhill as much as we could Muhammad, so we went to Muhammad in the second half.”
And when they went to him, he came through.
Less than a minute into the half, the 6-foot-4 guard drove toward the rim. Tulsa forward Brandon Swannegan stood between him and two points. He went up strong against Swannegan’s 6-foot-9 frame, drew contact and laid it in. He missed the ensuring free throw, missing out on the and-1 play, but the gutsy basket pushed Michigan back to its halftime lead of eight.
Three minutes later he drew another foul — this time without the ball as he cut through the paint and got tied up with Tulsa guard Shaquille Harrison. Abdur-Rahkman’s mere presence in the paint — whether he had the ball or not — put the Golden Hurricane on edge. The Wolverines inbounded the ball, and Abdur-Rahkman came through again with a pretty left-handed layup.
But Michigan went flat afterwards, missing its next four field goal attempts and turning the ball over once.
Then, after a three-and-a-half minute draught, Abdur-Rahkman came through again. He moved toward the basket off a screen toward and finished with a soft touch to tie the game.
“We knew that shots weren’t falling,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We knew we had to get to the basket and play in-the-paint ball. We needed to find open shooters or score at the rim, so that was a point of emphasis.”
Abdur-Rahkman continued to look calm and collected even after Walton headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with nine minutes left in the half. With Walton on the sideline, the sophomore had to take over running Michigan’s offense. His first time down the floor running the point he dished to redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson in the corner. Robinson nailed a 3 to put Michigan up two.
Five minutes later, Abdur-Rahkman dropped his gem off the glass. The made basket didn’t give the Wolverines the lead for good — that came courtesy of an Irvin jumper with less than a minute left — but it put them in position to close down the stretch.
“When we’re not hitting any shots on the outside, we can always rely on (Abdur-Rahkman), because he’s really crafty,” said sophomore forward Ricky Doyle. “He really knows how to use his body well, use his speed really well, to get by defenders and attack the rim.”