ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Derrick Walton Jr. was a late scratch for Michigan Tuesday but the Wolverines didn’t flinch running away with a 58-44 win over Nebraska behind a 13-point, career-high 12-rebound performance from Zak Irvin.
"We were able to stay together,” Irvin said. “We have fought through a lot of adversity this year. With Derrick and Caris (LeVert) both out, we are even closer than we have been, and we were able to go out there and show that tonight."
In the first half Michigan freshman Aubrey Dawkins took charge with 13-points including a perfect 3-for-3 on three-point attempts to help send the Wolverines to the break with a 23-18 lead.
With Walton Jr. out due to a lingering toe issue freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got the start alongside Spike Albrecht in the Michigan back court, Abdur-Rahkman rising to the challenge with nine-points, all of which came in the second half triggering a 12-2 run to push it’s lead to 15.
Max Bielfeldt chipped in a crucial 12-points and nine rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, in 26 minutes of work with Mark Donnal sitting out because of an upper respiratory infection. Albrecht added six-points and seven assists as well.
For Nebraska, senior do everything wing Terran Petteway was held scoreless until knocking down a three-point attempt five minutes into the second half. Petteway finished with seven-points on 1-of-11 shooting from the field. Shavon Shields led the Cornhuskers with 14-points.
"We tried to change a lot of things on them, just because Petteway and Shields are so talented so we tried to just get them out of rhythm,” Michigan coach John Beilein said afterward. “Once they get comfortable, they're really a good team.
“We took a chance there that if we kept them out of rhythm they wouldn't be able to use some of the great talent they have. Some of that worked."
Both teams came out of the gates slow Tuesday, Michigan leading just 6-5 at the first media timeout behind threes from Dawkins and Irvin.
Multiple field goals by Dawkins and Bielfeldt kept Michigan afloat in the first half, leading 20-13 with 3:14 to play, Nebraska shooting just 7-for-27 from the field against a variety of defenses from the Wolverines including the 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 look.
Michigan raced to a 31-20 lead less than two minutes into the second half thanks to two turnovers from Shields leading to a jumper by Irvin and a lay-up for Abdur-Rahkman, that run forcing a timeout for Nebraska.
The Wolverines continued the onslaught as Ricky Doyle hit a hook shot and Irvin buried a three-pointer, extending Michigan’s lead to 38-20 before Petteway finally got on the scoreboard with a three of his own.
After Michigan pushed the lead to 40-23, Nebraska found success against the 2-3 zone, scoring three straight lay-ups to give the Cornhuskers life down just 11-points with 11:44 left in regulation.
Abdur-Rahkman got back to work following the timeout, aggressively going to the rim to convert a floater and the foul. After knocking down the free throw, Abdur-Rahkman again attacked the rim for a finish following a Petteway turnover. Michigan’s lead ballooned to 45-29 forcing another Nebraska timeout with just over 10 minutes to play.
The Cornhuskers cut Michigan’s lead to just eight with 5:55 to play but the Wolverines reverted back to the 1-3-1, causing problems for Nebraska.
"I thought we were a little loose in the locker room, and usually that's a bad sign for us,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said post game. “I didn't think we had much edge coming out, and maybe finding out that Walton was out during warm-ups lightened them up.
“Michigan basketball is a big deal, John Beilein is an unbelievable coach, and I don't think they understand the strength of their system. They've got quality players behind guys, too, and I just thought that they out-competed us, they out-executed us, and we didn't show much heart. That was disappointing."
A jumper from Bielfeldt and an old fashioned three-point play by Irvin put Michigan back up 53-41 before Albrecht wowed the Crisler Center crowd.
Gaining possession of the ball at half court, Albrecht dribbled left, wrapping his way underneath the basket to draw Nebraska’s help defense, delivering a no look behind the back pass to Bielfeldt for a dunk to put Michigan up 56-41.