On Senior Day, it was only fitting that Max Bielfeldt, Michigan's lone senior, scored the first bucket.
Pitting the Wolverines, losers of five of six, and Rutgers, losers of 13 straight, against one another, well, to say there wasn't a lot on the line might be an understatement. But, when it comes down to doing anything for the last time -- for Bielfeldt taking the Crisler Center floor -- there is always a little bit of manufactured urgency.
Clearly, that urgency was felt team-wide, as the Wolverines romped their way to a 79-69 victory (a score that appears far closer than the game actually was), finishing the regular season 15-15 (8-10).
Given these two teams' offensive struggles, the 12-11 score at the 15:03 mark came as a bit of a surprise. RU started 5-of-7, from the field, Michigan 4-of-6. The scoring kept coming, however, but the Wolverines' output significantly outpaced RU's.
Aubrey Dawkins came out firing, scoring 14 points in the first 7:32 of play. Neither team was playing much defense at all, with both teams finding open looks with ease.
Kam Chatman hit a three to put Michigan ahead 29-19; then the lights went out. Literally, the Crisler Center lights flicked off for a moment. Take from that what you will.
Regardless Chatman had a nice half, scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including a trio of nice-looking triples. Along with 14 from Dawkins and 10 from Bielfeldt, Michigan cruised to a 47-28 lead the the half.
Just as a point of reference, Michigan scored 54 against Rutgers in the first meeting.
There wasn't much defense played today, but it was nice to see guys like Chatman get in a rhythm; his shot has, at times, looked fairly macabre this year, but his stroke was pure today.
Unsurprisingly for this Michigan program, hitting a majority of its threes -- with 10 minutes left, the Wolverines, were 14-of-24 from downtown, good for 58.3 percent -- results in a win more often than not. Without looking, I'd have to guess that is Michigan's best performance from beyond the arc of the season (or, at the very least, in the top 5).
No, Rutgers is not very good -- they came in with a 2-15 record for a reason. Still, watching Michigan put it together in this way was an encouraging harbinger. This performance was a 40-minute window into what this team can look like, when the ball is moving and the outside shot is falling.
Add in Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Duncan Robinson and you have a team that has potential to be very good. As good as Michigan's teams from 2011-13? Maybe not, but next year should offer sunnier days, assuming the injury bug stays away.
For Michigan, Dawkins led the way with 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting, including a sterling 8-for-11 mark from beyond the arc. Again, it's Rutgers, but Dawkins has closed out his freshman campaign in a big way. The future is bright for him; as has been the case with most of Beilein's freshmen, Dawkins went from just another guy off the bench to a serious contributor and a guy who will help lead the team going forward. Like Zak Irvin after his freshman campaign, there are things to work on, but his athleticism and shooting touch are sturdy blocks on which to build.
Bielfeldt finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, a double-double in his final Crisler performance. His career probably did not unfold the way he wanted, but rarely do things unfold exactly as we planned. All you have is what is, and Bielfeldt made the most of his senior campaign in Ann Arbor.
Chatman finished with 13 on 4-of-5 shooting, in what was probably his best performance of his young career. He is another player who should be talked about vis-a-vis the hallowed Beilein freshman-to-sophomore leap.
Overall, this was just a fun, albeit relatively meaningless, win for the Wolverines, who now head to the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago for a date with Illinois.
The Wolverines and Illini played to overtime the first two times -- how about a third? Well, given precedent, maybe that's not so great of an idea.
In any case, this strange and frustrating season is just about at its end. Even so, it had its enjoyable moments amid all the heartbreak.
If Beilein's Michigan track record is any indication, the Wolverines won't be down for long.