Duncan Robinson shoots 3-pointers like they’re free throws. Seriously — show up at Crisler Center an hour and a half before a Michigan men’s basketball game, and you’ll find the sharpshooting transfer guard tossing up straightaway set shots from behind the 3-point line.
Set shots. Robinson’s feet never leave the ground, yet from 22 feet away, each warm-up attempt somehow seems to find the bottom of the net. When one doesn’t, Robinson — and anybody watching him — seems surprised.
Robinson, a redshirt sophomore, got four open looks from beyond the arc early in the first half against Houston Baptist on Saturday. He missed them all.
Down 26-24 in a Big Ten arena with their opponent’s biggest long-range threat seemingly having an off day, the game’s first 15 minutes seemed too good to be true for the Huskies.
With 2:58 remaining in the first half, Robinson showed he’d had enough, ending his drought with a 3-pointer that put Michigan up by 10 and forced a Houston Baptist timeout.
He attempted four more 3-pointers in Michigan’s 82-57 win. He made them all.
The turnaround didn’t surprise many. Senior guard Spike Albrecht acknowledged one questionable shot selection on Robinson’s part, but called the other first-half misses “three of the best misses I’ve ever seen.”
Despite the early imperfections, Robinson never doubted himself — thanks at least in part to some sage advice from an unlikely source.
“It’s funny,” Robinson said. “I drove to the game with (Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander), and we ran into the parking lot attendant. He said, ‘If they don’t fall early, keep shooting.’ (Alexander) reminded me of that at halftime.”
The game ended, effectively, once Robinson regained his form. Houston Baptist never managed to close out on Robinson, and was outscored by 23 in the game’s final 25 minutes. The Huskies never threatened after an 8-0 Michigan run late in the first half, and the Wolverines coasted the rest of the way in their first home game since Nov. 20.
“He’s got a quick release that he’s worked hard at,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, explaining why Robinson’s 6-foot-8 frame proved impossible for the Huskies’ zone defense to cover around the perimeter. “You can get to a lot of people. … Getting to (Robinson) is a challenge.”
As Robinson slumped throughout the first half, senior guard Caris LeVert — as he often does — took it upon himself to shoulder the scoring load. He scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first period, helping Michigan to a 37-28 lead at intermission.
LeVert, too, found success in the face of the 2-3 zone look the Huskies intermittently used. He finished with 25 points on seven field goals and 9-for-10 free-throw shooting, Robinson scored 19 points, and sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins added 16.
“When Duncan and Aubrey are out there on the wings, it makes it that much easier to get the basketball to the middle of the floor,” LeVert said. “That’s where you want it in a zone. So when teams play zone and we have Duncan and Aubrey out there, the court’s a lot bigger.”
With junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. out of commission with a sprained ankle, sophomore Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman started in the backcourt for Michigan. As he was in the second half Tuesday at North Carolina State, Abdur-Rahkman was quiet on the offensive end, recording just six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field.
With Robinson, LeVert and Dawkins collectively accounting for 73 percent of Michigan’s scoring, there wasn’t much slack for Abdur-Rahkman to pick up, anyway.
“It’s always good to know that there’s other people on the team who can score,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “You don’t have to force anything.”
The Wolverines punctuated the win with a volleyball-esque play in the game’s final minute. Fighting for a contested defensive rebound, Dawkins set the ball high in the air multiple times, eventually pushing it toward Albrecht, who bumped it up the court to redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson. He soared to the rim for an emphatic one-handed slam on the other end, delighting the few fans still in their seats.