ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- At times Saturday afternoon it almost seemed as though No. 17 Michigan had just two players on the floor.
Junior Caris LeVert and sophomore Derrick Walton Jr. did everything they could to lead the Wolverines (6-2) to a win over the NJIT (3-5) Highlanders but it wasn’t enough, falling 72-70 in shocking fashion.
LeVert scored a career-high 32-points shooting 11-of-18 from the field including 6-for-8 on three-point attempts. LeVert also led the team in rebounds with six, and steals, with four.
“He did so many things out there and I mean big shots now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said afterward. “It is tough when they answer then you got to answer, then they answer and you got to do it again and then they answer.
“I love his growth right now. We just got to, all our other guys, guys that have had experience certainly didn’t have as good a night as he did but that was sensational. If you like watching great 1-on-1 players, between Caris and (Damon) Lynn, that was quite a show.”
Lynn was a major problem for Michigan defensively, connecting on 6-of-10 three-point attempts to lead NJIT with 20-points in 38-minutes of action.
For Michigan, Walton Jr., still nursing a left toe injury that forced him to miss a week of practice according to Beilein, had one of his best games of the year as well with 16-points, shooting over 50-percent from the field.
“We knew they were a really good team,” Walton Jr. said afterward. “I wouldn’t say we’re embarrassed at all. We knew they were a good team and they just made a couple more plays than us at the end of the game.”
But the missing member of Michigan’s big three Saturday was the near automatic scoring production out of sophomore wing Zak Irvin.
Irvin never found a rhythm throughout, shooting just 2-of-11 from the field including 1-for-8 from downtown, as his confidence appeared to dip as the game went on.
“That’s the big question we’ve got to continue to work at,” Beilein said. “And we’ve got to make sure that he remains positive when he’s not shooting the ball as well as he can.”
Part of the issue for Michigan offensively was a lack of flow, finishing the game with just eight assists and eight turnovers; this is a Wolverines’ team that averages just shy of 14 assists per contest.
Defensively, Beilein wasn’t pleased with how Michigan defended the NJIT pick and roll but was quick to credit the Highlanders for making some difficult shots. As a whole, NJIT hit 11-of-17 attempts on three-pointers.
Either way Beilein says his team needs to bounce back, not getting too high following Tuesday’s home win over Syracuse and not getting too low after Saturday’s shocker.
“We’re on this national stage, you’ve got to react both ways,” Beilein said. “When you beat a team like Syracuse you got to say okay that’s good but this is no different than what Connecticut’s got to do today with Yale beating them, somebody from their home state.
“A lot of people didn’t know New Jersey Tech was division one, they don’t even have a league. This is something that is humbling and we’ve got to grow through it through that humility.”
Michigan gets back to work Tuesday at home against Eastern Michigan at 9 p.m.