There is good news and bad news.
I'll start with the good news. Michigan (5-2) celebrated its second straight quality win away from Ann Arbor, holding off North Carolina State (4-3), 66-59, in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge bout in Raleigh. Caris LeVert and Duncan Robinson led the way as LeVert had one of the quietest 18-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist stat lines and Robinson kept raining fire from deep, dropping in 17 points thanks to 5-of-7 three-point shooting.
However, here's the bad news: the win will be overshadowed by Derrick Walton, who injured his left ankle in the first half, limped to the locker room, and didn't return. Yes, it was his left toe that Walton injured last season that caused his performance to plummet until he was sidelined for the rest of the year. While it's somewhat reassuring that he didn't suffer the same injury as before, how Walton hurt his ankle tonight is a concern:
Here's the ankle injury to Derrick Walton. He's out for the game; Michigan desperately needs it to be minor. pic.twitter.com/1xDRdzIUor— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) December 2, 2015
Walton didn't step on another foot or seem to roll his ankle. He came down on it weird before closing out on NC State's shooter. I won't attempt to diagnose the injury or its severity, but that Walton hurt it without contact with someone else is kind of worrisome.
However, John Beilein did provide an update on Walton's status after the game:
Beilein: Walton has a slight sprain. Therapy on in began right away.— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) December 2, 2015
Beilein on Walton: It doesn't look like a long-term thing, we hope.— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) December 2, 2015
What was impressive, though, was how Michigan didn't collapse after Walton's exit in its first true road game of the season. Walton went out with 2:48 left as Michigan owned a 28-21 lead, and the Wolverines didn't allow NC State to cut into that cushion before the end of the half. Zak Irvin (7 points, 5 boards, 4 assists) finished a strong left-handed drive, Moritz Wagner (8 points, 2 rebounds) tossed in an easy layup after receiving a bullet pass from LeVert and pumping his defender in the air, and LeVert knocked down a step-back jumper just before the buzzer sounded to give Michigan a 34-26 halftime lead.
Michigan even extended its lead to 15 in the second half after this lovely highlight:
HI SPIKE AND CARIS pic.twitter.com/jTvT2fugun— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) December 2, 2015
However, NC State didn't plan to go down that easily. The Wolfpack's offense has relied on offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line all season. In the first half, though, they had rebounded only 15 percent of their misses, which is well below their season average of 34.1 percent, and shot only three free throws. That changed in the second half. Despite making only one of its first 11 shots after the halftime intermission, NC State began to haul in its misses and draw fouls. By the 13:27 mark, NC State was in the one-and-one bonus. With 11:01 left, NC State was in the double bonus. And, as the Wolfpack continued to draw foul after foul, they kept trimming Michigan's lead, slicing it down to 50-46 after Anthony "Cat" Barber drilled a mid-range jumper with 7:50 left.
But Michigan, without Walton and on the road for the first time, showed resiliency that it always hasn't always shown in these situations in recent years. The Wolverines came out of the timeout, and, two possessions later, Robinson caught a pass on the right wing and, with a hand in his face, buried a triple. Then, the next time down after an NC State miss, Michigan pushed the tempo and found Irvin wide open in the left corner. Irvin had looked hesitant and not confident most of the night, but he was able to rattle his three home. Just like that, Michigan had pushed its lead back to 10 points with 6:23 remaining.
And Michigan and NC State traded buckets and free throws the rest of the way.
The Wolverines will hit the court again this Saturday against Houston Baptist, who's ranked as one of the worst Division I teams on KenPom. This will be an opportunity for Walton to rest and Michigan to work out some kinks before it travels down to Dallas to square off against a talented SMU squad that's 4-0 and the No. 30 team on KenPom.
If Walton can be healthy for that one next Tuesday, that sure would be good news.