COLUMBUS — Michigan coach John Beilein glanced down his bench. He was looking for someone, anyone, who was going to play with control, play with heart, play like they wanted to be on the court at the Value City Arena against No. 15 Ohio State in Columbus.
The enormity of the stage appeared too large for the second-ranked Wolverines, the pressure too high. They committed eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes of action. Their offense was stagnant, and their defense was soft.
And so with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, and Michigan down 29-8, Beilein inserted backup point guard Spike Albrecht into the game.
“We just wanted him to keep things simple,” Beilein said. “He’s a single hitter.”
And without a care in the world, Albrecht started to run the show, playing like he was the most experienced member of the Wolverines. He drew a quick foul on Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. On the next possession, he took the ball to the hole and earned Michigan’s first free-throw attempts of the contest.
The momentum started to slowly shift. Two minutes later, two more free throws by Albrecht, and the deficit was cut to 16 points.
“It was great to see him out there getting his teammates involved, playing good defense and having fun,” said junior swingman Hardaway Jr.
And with the sparsely used reserve in command of the team, Michigan found new life. A dunk from redshirt junior center Jordan Morgan followed by two more Albrecht free throws. A few moments later, Albrecht confidently stepped into a three-pointer at the top of the key to cut Michigan’s deficit to 14.
With the 5-foot-11, freshman on the floor, the Wolverines finished the stanza on a 14-5 run. With all the big names on this roster, and all the highly-touted freshman that have made a name for themselves in the early going of this season, it was Albrecht who was conducting the resurgence in the most hostile of environments, leading the team with a career-high of seven points as it entered the locker room.
“He definitely gave us a spark out there,” Hardaway Jr said. “We’re happy that he came out here and just tried to play his game and play in the flow of the offense, and that’s what we need from him continuing on.”
It was that spark that caused Beilein to substitute Albrecht into the game with less than four minutes gone by in the second half. With the Wolverines facing a 13-point deficit, the reserve stuck to his role. Playing alongside Burke, he moved the ball around on offense and created havoc on defense, even intercepting a pass that led to a layup from freshman forward Mitch McGary, which narrowed the deficit to eight points.
“He was terrific in there,” Beilein said. “He was very steady when he was in there and when we played the two little guys in there together, that was even better.”
Though Albrecht’s statistical contribution in the second half was miniscule — he only had a rebound and a steal in four minutes — his handprints were all over the ignition of Michigan’s attempted comeback, which got as close as two points in the waning seconds of the contest. The coaches rewarded him with his most playing time since the second week of the season.
And even when he appeared to play outside of himself, the coaching staff took it as an encouraging sign
“He took a step-back three in transition, which probably isn’t (what he does best), but you’ve got to applaud that — he’s not wilting, he wants to make it happen,” Beilein said.