By Teddy Gutkin
Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who fouled out in Thursday’s overtime win against the Iowa Hawkeyes, led the Wolverines in scoring. Abdur-Rahkman, who totaled only 9 points against Iowa, caught fire against the Huskers, scoring 21 points and knocking down all five of his three point attempts. Moe Wagner, who also fouled out on Thursday, played like a man possessed, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
As they have done for much of the season, Michigan won this game thanks to their hot shooting from beyond the arc. The team shot 11-23 from deep, including four makes from senior F Duncan Robinson, who has recaptured his form as one of the conference’s premier shooters in the past month.
When asked about his recent hot streak, Robinson said, “I think a lot of it was just mental. Found myself in a situation where my time in a Michigan uniform is running out. You heighten your sense of urgency when you realize that.”
Despite their impressive performance from deep, the Wolverines would not have been able to win this game as comfortably as they did without the impressive defense of Zavier Simpson. In addition to posting 12 points and 6 assists, Simpson notched two steals and forced a series of turnovers that didn’t show up in the box score.
“I think it starts with Zavier,” Robinson said when asked about the team’s impressive defensive effort. “He brings it every single game and every single day in practice and raises everybody's level.”
Simpson, who has been much-maligned for his struggles at the free throw line, hit all four of his attempts from the charity stripe. As a team, the Wolverines shot 12-15, by far one of their best shooting performances from the line this season.
The Huskers were led by junior James Palmer, Jr, who scored 16 points. However, he was just 3-9 from the field, and struggled to get in a rhythm thanks to the Wolverines’ ability to guard the perimeter and force timely turnovers. Sophomore F Isaiah Roby also scored 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds.
The loss could end up being a crucial one for the Nebraska, who find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble as their season comes to a close. Despite the loss, Palmer, Jr. still feels that his team deserves to make the tournament.
“I don’t think this loss should affect us,” he said.
While the Huskers must wait to see their fate in this year’s tournament field, the Wolverines still have a chance to improve on their impressive resume when they take on their in-state rival Michigan State on Saturday afternoon at 2:00. The two teams met once in the regular season, with Michigan pulling off an upset win on the road by a score of 82-72. Mo Wagner had his best game of the season with a 27-point outing in that meeting, though he says that this performance doesn’t mean much to him going into tomorrow’s matchup.
“I mean it doesn't really matter, to be honest with you,” Wagner said. “I'm not trying to focus on that too much because it doesn't mean tomorrow. We're playing in the semifinals for a Big Ten Championship. And January 13th or whatever it was doesn't mean anything tomorrow.”
Michigan head coach John Beilein agreed with his star forward’s statements, noting that he hasn’t even watched film since their last meeting in East Lansing.
I haven't watched one bit of their game,” he said. “The last time I watched them was whenever we played them.”
Regardless of how Michigan preps for tomorrow’s matchup, they certainly looked the part of a team that can make a run at their second consecutive conference tournament title, and they should give Michigan State all they can handle on Saturday.
Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman (21 points, 7-13 FG, 5-5 3PT)
Mo Wagner (20 points, 13 rebounds, 9-16 FG, 2-4 3PT)
James Palmer, Jr. (16 points, 2 assists, 3-9 FG)