By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 2, 2014
All night long, sophomore guard Spike Albrecht made a sold-out Crisler Center come to its feet with crisp passes. But it wasn’t until he knocked down a deep 3-pointer with 31 seconds left in the game that the crowd was cheering its loudest as he helped Michigan edge Syracuse, 68-65.
Three times prior in the second half, Albrecht put the crowd on its feet — and he didn’t even have to score.
Early in the frame, Albrecht drove to his right and dished a crisp behind-the-back pass to forward Ricky Doyle. The freshman brushed off contact and finished with a dunk then knocked down a free throw to complete the and-1 play, giving the Wolverines (6-1) the lead.
Nine minutes later, with 7:49 left on the clock, Albrecht found Doyle again. This time, the junior guard pushed a bounce pass to him and the 6-foot-9 forward finished with another dunk, bringing the Wolverines’ lead to seven points.
Then, with just under two minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Albrecht took the ball from the top of the arc, drove toward the paint and dished to the left block where Doyle was waiting for him again. Doyle missed the first shot he put up but tipped in a second-chance opportunity.
After the game, Michigan coach John Beilein said he tells Albrecht, “ ‘Spike, shoot when you’re open. Pass it when you’re not.’ It’s pretty simple.”
Nine times, Albrecht passed the ball to someone else in a maize and blue jersey who finished with a basket, and eight times he opted to shoot — knocking down four of those attempts attempts and three beyond the arc.
“Spike is really good attacking the zone, he sees behind the zone,” Beilein said. “He makes that entry pass into the high-post area better than anybody, so that’s why we had him out there so much.”
Doyle, after having a breakout game against Oregon during the Progressive Legends Classic, and putting up 15 points on Saturday against Nicholls State, finished with another strong stat line, recording 12 points and six boards.
Syracuse tied the game with 56 seconds left, and cut Michigan’s lead to only one after Albrecht’s late three, but the Orange (5-2) were forced to foul, sending Michigan to the line.
The Wolverines did everything they could to give away the game, but Syracuse couldn’t take advantage. Sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. missed on a 1-and-1 attempt, but the Orange were unable to regain possession, throwing a rebound out of bounds.
Six seconds later, junior guard Caris LeVert went to the line to try and ice the game, but he too missed a 1-and-1 attempt. This time Syracuse brought the ball down the court but it couldn’t hold on to it, losing control as the ball slipped out of bounds.
Following another Syracuse foul, LeVert went to the line for a second 1-and-1 attempt and knocked down two free throws to put Michigan up three points — this time for good.
A 3-point attempt from Syracuse fell short at the buzzer to give Michigan its first marquee win of the season. Albrecht might have captured most of the attention at the point guard position, but Walton started the game after being called a game-time decision on Monday due to a left toe injury. Beilein said Walton told him he was OK to play just 10 minutes before tip-off and he wanted to start Walton when he was stretched out as opposed to starting Albrecht and bringing Walton in off the bench.
The two guards shared minutes throughout the game, but neither could get the offense going in the first half, as it shot 13-of-36 in the first frame.
In the first 20 minutes, Michigan and Syracuse battled back and forth with neither team able to get shots to go. The Wolverines started the game 0-for-7 from the field, struggling to get shots to fall over the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. But Syracuse’s shooting woes kept them from running away with it early. Save for forward Rakeem Christmas, who shot 5-for-6 from the field in the half, the Orange went just 6-for-19 in the frame.
Sophomore forward Zak Irvin kept Michigan in the game throughout the first half, knocking down two 3-pointers and scoring 12 points. In the second stanza, Irvin helped the Wolverines push the lead to 10 — their largest lead of the game — with just over seven minutes to go to give it some breathing room. He finished with a game-high 18 points.
Michigan’s ability to get shots to fall in the second half and to start attacking the rim allowed them to break down Syracuse’s defense.
“We were more aggressive in the second half,” LeVert said. “In the first half we were kind of conservative. We weren’t really penetrating to get in the middle of it. In the second half, (the ability to penetrate) opened it up and we knocked down some shots.”
The Orange didn’t hold back at the end, and it used a couple of late jumpers to cut the lead and tie it, but sloppy play at the end ultimately cost them an opportunity to get ahead.