Robinson's big first half helps Michigan roll past Northern Kentucky

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 8:03pm

Ninety minutes before the Michigan men’s basketball team tipped off against Northern Kentucky on Tuesday night, redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson strutted out from Michigan’s locker room. He stretched on the sideline and then started his pregame routine, practicing more than 100 shot attempts from spots all around the arc. Ninety minutes later, he did it for real, picking up 18 points in the first half on six 3-pointers as Michigan (8-3) rolled past the Norse (2-6), 77-62.

Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. made his return to the starting lineup after suffering a foot injury two weeks ago against North Carolina State and looked to be at nearly 100 percent, tallying 16 points in 34 minutes, but two other guards stole the show.

Senior guard Caris LeVert etched his name into Michigan’s record book twice on Tuesday. In the game’s first minute, he knocked down a free throw to complete an and-1 play and clinch his 1,000th career point as a Wolverine. Late in the second half, he dished an assist — his 10th of the night — to clinch a triple-double, just the fourth in program history. The senior finished with 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

Despite finishing with a triple-double, LeVert had a quiet first half. Fellow guard Robinson did not.

Two minutes into the half, LeVert fed a pass to Robinson in the corner. The Williams College transfer set and fired. The ball nicked the far side of the rim, then the near side, and fell in — not the purest shot by Robinson’s standards, but a make nonetheless. Two minutes later, Robinson fired again — this time from the wing spot on the right side of the arc — and hit again, without any help from the rim.

At the 12-minute mark, Robinson caught a pass from junior forward Mark Donnal and — in the same spot — hit once more. He was on fire, so his teammates kept on feeding him. Just more than a minute later, LeVert hit Robinson with another pass. Two Northern Kentucky players stuck their hands in Robinson’s face, but neither fazed him. He jumped and flicked his right wrist. Pure.

Michigan coach John Beilein gave him a rest at the half’s midway mark, but it didn’t last more than 70 seconds. With fresh legs, Robinson picked up where he left off. He took another feed from LeVert, stepped back this time, and gunned in another trey. Two possessions later, he went back to that same spot and put in another one for good measure. Robinson missed just one 3-point attempt in the first half, finishing the game with a game-high 18 points.

In the second half, a combination of tighter defense and other Wolverines getting into their rhythm limited Robinson to just one attempt from deep which he missed. He finished 6-for-8 from behind the arc and is shooting 61 percent on 3-point attempts this year.

“Second half, they just shut him down. They just said, ‘You ain’t gonna get it,’ " Beilein said. “So we got to find ways to get him open. The magnitude of what he’s doing for us, I think we saw in the first half. He was shooting behind screens, he had guys on him when he was shooting, he has a swag to when he’s shooting. Those weren’t six open 3s.”

On the defensive end, Michigan’s bigs struggled to contain center Jalen Billups. Billups is just 6-foot-6 but one of the most effective big men in the league, and he bodied into the paint against each of Michigan’s ‘5’ men, picking up 16 points and a team-high six rebounds in the contest. Steady shooting from guard Lavone Holland II, kept it close for most of the first frame. Holland knocked down a jumper late to cut the Wolverines’ lead to nine before half time, and finished with 12 points in the half.

In the second half, LeVert— who had just four points in the first half — found his rhythm, collecting six points in the first four minutes. With two minutes left, LeVert found Donnal down low, and Donnal put the ball in for a layup to give LeVert his 10th helper of the night and his first career triple double.

“If he had nine, nine and nine, it’s the same thing,” Beilein said. “It’s not all of the sudden this great thing. I think we’ve had Darius Morris do it, Manny Harris do it, and now to have Caris do it, that’s pretty good.”

Walton, who also had just four points in the first frame, started hitting in the second, too, collecting two quick 3s and ultimately helping Michigan pull away. 

“Yesterday, when he practiced full out, he had just a touch of soreness, and he said, ‘I really feel good. I’m ready to go,’ " Beilein said. “Yesterday, he couldn’t make a shot in practice, so I loved seeing his first 3 go in in that second half. I thought he looked good. He’s still having trouble pushing off the bad ankle a little bit, but he looked good out there.”

The Wolverines finished with five players with double digits points. Donnal chipped in 11 and junior guard Zak Irvin finished with 10 on 5-for-8 shooting from the field.

Michigan hosts two more non-conference guarantee games before it kicks off conference play at Illinois on Dec. 30.