As of last week, in the 45 years since the Michigan men’s basketball team started officially tracking assists, only three Wolverines had ever recorded a triple-double.
This week alone, it has happened twice.
Just four days after senior guard Caris LeVert dropped 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds against Northern Kentucky, he was hugging Derrick Walton Jr. in the middle of the court Saturday, smiling widely after the junior guard accomplished the same feat against Youngstown State.
In a 105-point Michigan explosion that featured not one, but two highlight-reel dunks from sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins, it was Walton who got the loudest ovation at Crisler Center when he grabbed his 10th rebound midway through the second half. By the time Michigan coach John Beilein pulled him from the game a minute later, he had racked up 10 points, 13 assists, 11 boards and four steals.
Much like on Tuesday, neither Walton nor Beilein were aware they were on the verge of making history again, but LeVert, junior forward Zak Irvin and sophomore forward Ricky Doyle made sure their teammate pulled it off.
“I really thank my teammates, honestly,” Walton said. “I was really caught up in the game, trying to make sure our guys were still locked in defensively. The guys let me know I was kind of close, and Caris, Zak and Ricky tried to box out for me to let me get a couple more rebounds, pad my stats.”
Having no trouble finding open shooters, Walton spearheaded a Wolverine offense that pushed the tempo early and completely picked apart the Penguins’ 2-3 zone defense. Thanks largely to Walton’s exceptional floor vision and transition game, Michigan shot 62 percent from the floor and finished the game with 12 fast-break points and 19 points off turnovers.
“When you see a zone as a team, with guys that can shoot on our team, of course you just kind of pass it around to the guy with an open shot,” Walton said. “But tonight, we tried to force the issue, getting to the paint and try to let guys like Ricky or (freshman forward Moritz Wagner) who can shoot a high percentage, let them finish and do what they do well.”
It wasn’t a particularly strong scoring performance for Walton individually — all four of his baskets came in the first half — but his awareness running the point and his focus on defense ultimately helped him round out a career day.
Playing in just his second game since injuring his ankle at North Carolina State at the beginning of the month, Walton provided the well-rounded presence the Wolverines had sorely missed over the last two weeks — especially in a blowout loss at SMU two weeks ago.
“You’re kind of seeing what we can do — really clicking on the defensive end and getting out running like we want to,” Walton said.
Beilein wasn’t quite sure what to make of his team having two straight triple-doubles — he cited the Wolverines’ high number of possessions and ability to get up and down the court defensively as contributing factors — but both he and Walton were quick to suggest another candidate for a triple-double down the road: Zak Irvin.
“Zak is a really good candidate — he’s seeing the floor really well,” Walton said. “He’s getting his athletic ability back, so he’s rebounding well, and of course you guys know he can score. If I had to guess, I think Caris will probably get another one, and then Zak will definitely get one.”