Michigan wins first game without Caris LeVert, beats Rutgers
Michigan got its first taste of life without Caris LeVert and the Wolverines passed their initial test after Derrick Walton Jr. stepped up at crunch time.
The Wolverines lost LeVert, their leading scorer and rebounder, for the remainder of the year when the junior guard suffered a left foot fracture at the end of the Northwestern game Saturday.
With Michigan needing someone to deliver, Walton scored 10 of his 12 points in the final six minutes as Michigan defeated Rutgers 54-50 on Tuesday night.
”It wasn’t something I planned on doing,” Walton said. ”This wasn’t just about me. It was about guys making plays when we needed them.”
Walton made his share, however, while Aubrey Dawkins had 11 points and Zak Irvin 10 for the Wolverines (12-7, 5-2 Big Ten). Max Bielfeldt added eight points and eight rebounds.
Coach John Beilein felt it was the kind of victory his players needed in order to realize they could win a tough game on the road without LeVert.
”It’s just natural, they’re young, their leader is down and you have to convince them,” Beilein said. ”And now it gives credence to `You can do things. You can get blown out as well but you can win again. You just have to stay together, play together, play smart basketball.”’
Myles Mack had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (10-10, 2-5), who have lost three straight since upsetting then-No. 4 Wisconsin. Kadeem Jack added 13 points.
”We didn’t play well tonight, we didn’t give ourselves enough chances to win the game at the end,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. ”We played hard but you have to play hard and smart to play well.”
Michigan scored 11 straight for a 48-42 lead with 3:03 remaining. Walton hit two straight 3-pointers during the spurt to give the Wolverines a 45-42 advantage. He went 4 for 4 from the line in the last minute and Irvin added two final free throws.
Trailing 32-25, Rutgers used a 15-2 run to take its largest lead at 40-34. Two Mack free throws made it 42-37 before Michigan started its decisive run. Rutgers committed three turnovers and was 2 of 4 at the foul line during its drought.
Jack hit a short jumper to pull Rutgers within 48-44 before Walton made four straight foul shots to make it 52-44 with 32.5 seconds remaining to seal the Wolverines sixth win in their last eight games.
Despite shooting 34.7 percent from the field, Michigan improved to 6-0 all-time against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights also struggled, shooting just 35.8 percent.
In the first half, Michigan made just 3 for 13 from 3-point range, but still held a 24-22 lead at halftime. There were five ties and eight lead changes during the half. Each team had six turnovers and the largest lead for either side was three.
Michigan: Caris LeVert, who did not make the trip to Rutgers, was leading Michigan in scoring (14.9), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.7), steals (1.7) and minutes (35.8). … Of Michigan’s six wins over the Knights, two were in high-profile games as the Wolverines beat Rutgers in the 1976 NCAA semifinals and in the 2004 NIT championship game, which was the last meeting between the teams.
Rutgers: It was the second straight home game Rutgers faced a Big Ten foe without its top scorer and rebounder, as Frank Kaminsky has been out with a concussion. … Myles Mack, who was averaging a team-leading 14.7 points entering the game, had tallied 51 percent of his points from 3-point range by making 114 of 220 from behind the arc.