COLLEGE PARK — Saturday began in celebration. The Maryland basketball team honored its seniors before their regular season finale, as a sold-out, white-clad Terrapin crowd roared in anticipation of competitive basketball in regular season finale.
But minutes later, that joyfulness was nowhere to be found.
Boos would instead fly from the rafters at the Xfinity Center, as No. 17 Michigan (13-5 Big Ten, 24-7 overall) played a dominant first half to dismantle Maryland (8-10, 19-12), 85-61, on Saturday. The win gives the Wolverines their best regular season record since 2012-13 — a year that ended in coach John Beilein’s first trip to the Final Four.
And during the first twenty minutes of Saturday’s game, Michigan played like a Final Four-caliber team.
54 points. 61 percent shooting. 11 triples. Five steals. A 30-point halftime lead. It was the Wolverines’ best half of the season. Everything went Michigan’s way — shots, loose balls, foul calls, you name it.
“We’re in a little bit of a rhythm right now where our guys are shooting really well,” Beilein said. “We’re a tough guard for a lot of teams when all five guys are shooting it in.”
Behind the play of senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman, the Wolverines embarked on a 16-3 run to gain an 18-point lead with five minutes left in the first half. That ballooned to 30 after a 14-4 Michigan stretch over the half’s final two minutes.
“I went into halftime, and it didn’t talk about that,” Beilein said. “I talked about holding Maryland to 24 points at halftime. That was what was great about that half.”
After another sluggish, turnover-filled start, Michigan turned to the outside, attempting seven of its first eight shot attempts from beyond the arc. Abdur-Rahkman, with his face clad in protective goggles after getting poked in the eye Wednesday, hit nylon on a trio of triples to give the Wolverines an early lead.
And in his last regular season game, Abdur-Rahkman would be far from finished. It didn’t matter with a defender right in his face. It didn’t certainly didn’t matter when there wasn’t. When the ball hit his hands, Abdur-Rahkman was looking to score.
Again and again, he did just that. With eight minutes to go in the first half, a cross-over and step-back allowed Abdur-Rahkman to bury a 3-pointer over Maryland’s Joshua Tomaic, who undoubtedly heard Abdur-Rahkman’s celebratory screams he jogged down the floor. It was just one of six first-half threes for the Michigan senior, part of a 22-point first half and a career-high 28 total points.
“I think he’s just very aggressive,” said junior forward Moritz Wagner. “I feel like he has sense of responsibility to score and take it very seriously the way he’s stepping up in leadership. It just gives a sense security.”
Added Beilein: “Even with a big lead, you’ve got to have a guy who can make a basket or drive when you need him to. … You see his wearing those goggles. We should all wear goggles. That was great.”
Things balanced out in the second — the Wolverines shot just 41 percent while the Terrapins worked to climb back — but there was already too big of a hole. Five weeks after a drama-filled, one-point affair in Ann Arbor, the finality of Saturday’s contest was purely academic.
But for Charles Matthews, it was anything but. After a zero-point showing at Penn State, the redshirt sophomore scored 11 points in the second frame, looking to regain confidence that Beilein said evaded him on Wednesday.
Freshman guard Jordan Poole, meanwhile, continued his strong play of late with 12 total points on 3-of-5 shooting.
“He’s showed us defensively and offensively that he’s about making the next right play,” Beilein said. … “We’ll let him play through a mistake now because we know they’re not as common.”
Michigan will now head to Madison Square Garden with no shortage of confidence, carrying this dominant win and a five-game winning streak into the Big Ten Tournament.
It all bring up a not-so-distant memory. A season ago, the Wolverines rattled off wins in six of their final eight games before capturing the Big Ten Tournament with four wins in four days. That late-season momentum has returned year later.
“It is similar in the regard that we know who we are, we’ve got things figured out,” Wagner said. “We know our strengths and weaknesses. Last year, we figured out a way to guard people efficiently, to be efficient offensively. We know our strengths and weaknesses right now, and obviously that helps a lot.”
When Michigan will begin play in New York is still to be determined. If Nebraska — which beat the Wolverines handily last month to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker — wins Sunday against Penn State, Michigan will play Thursday against the winner of the 12-13 matchup. If the Nittany Lions win, the Wolverines will earn the conference’s four-seed and double-bye and begin play Friday.
For now, though, Michigan knows that — once again — it is playing its best basketball at the right time.
And in the words of Wagner, “Looks familiar, huh?”