ANN ARBOR – Michigan has spent most of this season finding one disappointment after another.
So it only seemed fitting that, in the least meaningful game of the season, the Wolverines put on their best performance.
Led by freshman Aubrey Dawkins’ career-high 31 points, the Wolverines cruised to a 79-69 win over Rutgers today at Crisler Center.
Dawkins put on one of the great three-point shooting performances in program history, hitting 8-of-11 from long range, finishing one behind Garde Thompson’s 1987 game of nine against Navy.
On any other senior day, the lone senior Max Bielfeldt would have been the story with his first career double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, leaving with his ceremonial exit with 2:37 remaining. He was given an ovation by the crowd when he grabbed the 10th rebound of the game, as they were aware of the moment.
Though things got a little uncomfortable when U-M’s game-high 29-point lead was cut to 10 in the final seconds, forcing an odd situation where U-M coach John Beilein removed Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht before re-inserting them after a Michigan turnover, that was about the only issue in this game.
Michigan (15-15, 8-10 Big Ten) controlled the game all game, shooting 50.9% from the field after mailing in the final 10 minutes and finishing 14-of-31 from three-point range, tying the season high for triples in a game.
The performance can be qualified as the Wolverines were already locked into the No. 9 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament – against No. 8 Indiana or Illinois and Rutgers is by far the Big Ten’s worst team, at 10-21 and 2-16 in conference play.
Michigan played the first half like it didn’t even need the second.
The Wolverines were nearly perfect, producing their best half of the Big Ten season, storming to a 47-28 lead with precision.
Shooting 60% from the field and 53% from three-point range, they shared the ball – their 13 first-half assists tied their most for a full game since Jan. 6 – and had breakout stars all over the place.
Dawkins scored 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers, Kameron Chatman’s 11 first-half points were his most since Dec. 2 and Max Bielfeldt reveled in Senior Night, taking a team-high seven shots in the half, scoring 10 points.
On a day when the lights briefly went out in the first half, the Wolverines offered enough crazy highlights, including Chatman flipping in a reverse layup without looking.
Now the challenge is to replicate it against a higher-level opponent.