No matter how listless the offense looks, or how overmatched the frontcourt, one thing is constant: this team never stops.
Rutgers embarked on a 15-2 run to take a six-point lead in the second half. RU's Myles Mack rose up for a wide open three in transition, threatening to break Michigan's back right then and there.
The orange orb rose and rose, but clanked off the rim. At the time, it seemed but a harmless miss, a momentary pause of the Scarlet Knights' momentum. In fact, it was the first sequence in a series of events that Michigan rode to a 54-50 road victory, moving to 12-7 (5-2) on the season.
Zak Irvin buried a three on Michigan's first possession of the game; however, he picked up his second foul at the 16:01 mark, and it was the last time he'd see the floor in the first half.
Nonetheless, Michigan entered the halftime break up 24-22, despite going 8-for-28 from the field. Sophomore Sean Lonergan, of Fishers, Ind., even entered the game, completing a layup to tie the game at 14. Lonergan had played a combined 15 minutes in seven game appearances coming into tonight.
Somehow, Michigan cobbled together enough production from a strange cast of characters, despite Irvin playing just four first-half minutes, to hold a slight halftime lead.
Irvin made up for lost time early in the second, burying a three and a two-point jumper in the half's first two minutes. The freshman Aubrey Dawkins pitched in a high-flying layup in transition to give Michigan a seven-point lead: the Wolverines appeared to be gaining confidence.
Things went downhill from there, as Irvin went cold and Michigan turned it over three times in about two minutes. A 6-0 Rutgers run finally came to an end when a strong take by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman upped Michigan's lead to three.
But, Michigan went cold again. As Michigan fans have seen this season, when they go cold, they go positively hyperborean, a parade of clanked threes and missed layups.
Just like that, a 15-2 Rutgers run had Michigan reeling, down 40-34 with about eight minutes to play.
Then, the big swing happened.
Mack missed a wide open three from transition that you knew would bring the house down. On the ensuing offensive possession, Dawkins played the hero once again, nailing a left wing triple with aplomb to stem the tide for a moment.
Spike Albrecht, back after missing the Northwestern game, pitched in his first points of the night with a drive to the cup, making it 42-39 Rutgers with under seven minutes to go. Then, Michigan's other point guard, Derrick Walton, had a first of his own, knocking in a triple to tie the game after having missed his first five attempts from downtown.
Unfortunately, Irvin stayed cold after a hot start to the half, missing jumpers, both solid looks. Luckily for Michigan, Walton was feeling it at the right time, as he buried another three to give Michigan its first lead in seven minutes.
If you're going to miss your first five, crunch time is a good time to hit two in a row.
Max Bielfeldt, too, came up big in crunch time. He grabbed his fourth offensive rebound late, then, once Michigan gathered itself, buried a three from up top to give Michigan a six-point lead late.
Rutgers finally snapped what was an 11-0 Michigan run, and Walton then turned it over while stepping out of bounds on a spin move.
Fortunately for Michigan, Rutgers gave it right back, then fouled Walton, their seventh of the half, sending him to the line. He buried both, Bishop Daniels couldn't convert at the other end, and Michigan salted away its fifth Big Ten win from the free throw line.
This won't go down as a "quality win," but in terms of where this team stands, it is one. Without Caris LeVert, Michigan looked rudderless at times, yet was still capable to find enough playmaking down the stretch from Walton, Dawkins and Bielfeldt to pull out a win, an impressive feat after Rutgers roared back with a 15-2 run in the second half. In retrospect, Mack missing that open three looms large.
Walton led Michigan with 12 points and eight rebounds, while Bielfeldt pitched in a crucial eight points and eight rebounds of his own. Irvin added 10 points, and Dawkins scored 11 on 4-for-8 shooting, another feather in his freshman cap.
This might not move the needle much in terms of Michigan's tournament chances, but this result gave them exactly what I said the rest of this season would be about: finding a way to get contributions from secondary players, especially the freshmen.
With the win, the Wolverines moved to 12-7 (5-2) on the season. Next up? The Wisconsin Badgers, who visit the Crisler Center Saturday evening, presenting by far Michigan's toughest Big Ten test to date.