COLLEGE PARK — Mark Donnal was the Michigan men’s basketball team’s best option on Sunday, and it almost worked.
After a game-high 17-point performance in a losing effort Tuesday against Ohio State, Donnal had the game’s best mark again against No. 6 Maryland in another road loss.
The junior forward hit only one field goal — a 3-pointer — in the first half at the Xfinity Center, but Donnal got hot early in the second frame and went off for 22 points, finishing with a game-high 25.
After the Terrapins pushed out to a 16-point lead with eight minutes left in the first half, the Wolverines started to chip away, eventually cutting the lead down to six points with just more than a minute left. Maryland tried to extend the lead back to double digits before halftime, but two big blocks from Donnal late in the frame kept Michigan within arm’s reach heading into the locker room.
To kick off the second half, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman found Donnal twice early in the paint for two quick buckets. Donnal fought through contact on the second attempt to help Michigan cut the lead to just three.
“They kind of played uphill off the ball screens,” Donnal said. “So we knew the late drop-off pass was going to be there, so that’s kind of something we emphasized at halftime.”
A possession later, after a Maryland basket, Donnal got open from beyond the arc and knocked down his second 3-pointer of the game. He went 3-for-4 from deep in the game after entering it shooting just 25 percent from 3-point range.
“I hit my first (3-pointer), and it gave Coach the confidence to draw up the same play,” Donnal said. “He gave me some good looks, and we were able to execute.”
But despite Donnal hitting from inside the paint and behind the arc, Maryland continued to take it to him on the other side. After his made triple, 6-foot-11 center Diamond Stone bullied him down low, putting in an easy bucket of his own. Two possessions later, Stone’s physical play in the paint forced Donnal into fouling, sending Stone to the line to shoot free throws.
Donnal kept playing aggressively, though, even as Michigan’s only weapon to combat Maryland’s size. Five minutes into the half, Abdur-Rahkman found Donnal again, and the big man slammed down a dunk, giving the Wolverines their first lead since early in the first half. He nailed another 3-pointer one minute later, and when he got fouled down low two possessions after that, he hit both of his free throws to keep Michigan ahead by a point.
Perhaps his impact was best felt when he was off the court. When Donnal picked up his third foul with 12:30 left in the second half, Michigan coach John Beilein opted to sub in sophomore forward Ricky Doyle. Maryland took advantage of Donnal’s time on the bench, picking up four quick points in the paint.
“We didn’t keep him out for that long, but yeah (it was hard to take him out),” Beilein said. “His defense on Stone was good — he’s strong. He’s got more experience, but he’s going to have to have a rest anyhow. The way the wrestling match is down inside, he’s going to have to have a rest whether he’s hot or not. Your big men have to get a little bit of an extra breather that the other guys don’t get.”
Doyle filled in for just three minutes before Donnal reentered. Donnal picked up right where he left off and used two quick layups to cut an eight-point Terrapin lead to just four.
But Donnal couldn’t handle all of Maryland’s size himself. With five minutes left in the second half and Michigan up one, Maryland forward Robert Carter Jr. put up a close-range jumper. The shot missed, but Donnal was outsized by 6-foot-11 forward Damonte Dodd. Dodd grabbed the board and put up a shot of his own from inside the paint. This time, he missed, and Carter grabbed another Maryland offensive board. Carter went up again, putting in an easy bucket from point-blank range.
The Wolverines actually had the edge in offensive rebounds, 12-9, but Maryland capitalized on its second chances more, scoring 13 second-chance points to Michigan’s eight.
The Carter bucket reclaimed the lead for the Terrapins, and they never looked back, closing out Michigan down the stretch for an 86-82 win.
For Donnal, though, Maryland marked his second straight game as Michigan’s most productive player. Along with his 25 points, he also picked up five rebounds and five blocks.
“This is what we saw in the recruiting cycle with him,” Beilein said. “There’s just another gear for Mark that you saw today. It changes our whole team — just changes everything.”
It didn’t change the end result for Michigan — another Big Ten loss on the road — but for Donnal it appears to be changing his confidence. After losing his starting job just three games into the season before working his way back into the starting five after a big performance in Michigan’s Big Ten opener at Illinois, Donnal has established himself as far and away the Wolverines’ best option down low on both sides of the floor.
Against Maryland’s physicality, though, Michigan’s best wasn’t enough.