RALEIGH, N.C. — Duncan Robinson smirked at his bench.
After the Wolverines trailed, then led, and then came close to trailing once more, the redshirt sophomore guard sank his fifth 3-pointer with 6:48 left in the game to give the Michigan men’s basketball team the cushion it needed to hang on to its lead and beat North Carolina State, 66-59.
“We showed great fight down the stretch,” said senior guard Caris LeVert. “They made a run — we knew they would — their crowd got behind them, but we still stuck together. We made some big baskets down the stretch. Duncan’s 3 and Zak’s 3 were huge for us, we got stops when we needed and rebounded well, and that’s what got us over.”
For the first 10 minutes of Michigan’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup at N.C. State, it appeared the Wolverines were going to fall to the Wolfpack in a similar fashion to their first two losses — with poor shooting and a lack of an impactful big man.
Michigan (5-2) started the game shooting just 2-for-9 from the field, but with 10:12 left in the first half, Robinson ignited the Wolverines with a 3-pointer that put them one point short of the Wolfpack, 11-10. What started as a game dominated by N.C. State quickly descended into a back-and-forth contest, with the two teams exchanging leads five times in the next two minutes.
But once Michigan grabbed control, it never lost its lead.
Freshman forward Moritz Wagner, who came in for sophomore big man Ricky Doyle four minutes after the tip, awakened the Michigan bench with a monster one-hand slam with 8:06 to go. Wagner collected four fouls over the course of the game but emerged as a steady backup with eight points on 4-for-7 shooting.
“I think that’s kind of my thing, to give the team energy,” Wagner said. “I think that’s what people ask me to do, and I really enjoy that role.”
After opening the game shooting 2-for-9, Michigan made its next seven of eight. Robinson had a big part of Michigan’s late control. He hit two 3-pointers in a row to give Michigan a comfortable seven-point lead. The Wolverines maintained that lead, going into halftime up 34-26.
After junior guard Derrick Walton left the game late in the first frame with a slight sprain on his left ankle, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman started the second half and played the bulk of the minutes at point guard.
Senior guard Spike Albrecht, who has played only spot minutes while rehabbing his hips, was also able to make an appearance. He got on the court with 14:46 left in the game after keeping his sweats on during the first half. Just 19 seconds later, he fed senior guard Caris LeVert for an alley-oop dunk that gave Michigan a 15-point lead.
The Wolfpack gradually whittled the Wolverines’ lead over the next minutes, led by forward Caleb Martin, who scored 10 points on a 12-1 run to make the score 46-42.
Martin and guard Anthony “Cat” Barber combined for a majority of North Carolina State’s efforts by scoring 35 points, grabbing 10 boards and shelling out five of the Wolfpack’s eight assists, but their efforts weren’t enough to stop even a banged-up Michigan squad.
Walton may have left the game early, but the Wolverines maintained their composure for their first road victory of the season.
LeVert’s steady dominance made it impossible for the Wolfpack to come back, scoring 18 points, dishing out seven assists and grabbing nine rebounds. And with help from Robinson, who ended the game with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, the Wolverines’ confidence was on full display.
“(Robinson’s shooting) is deadly,” LeVert said. “When he hits a couple in a row, you wanna look for him every time you can. … He just knocks them down.
“If we were playing against a guy like Duncan, we would never leave him open.”