With 1:30 remaining, everything was crumbling around Michigan.
Just some minutes earlier, the Wolverines held a 70-53 advantage and seemed to be cruising to a relaxing road win over a hapless Minnesota team. But then they hit a giant speed bump. Suddenly, Michigan misfired on a bunch of its shots and committed a few careless turnovers against Minnesota's pressure, while the Gophers penetrated into Michigan's ineffective 2-3 zone for layup after layup. And, when Nate Mason put in a layup to make the score 74-72 Michigan, forcing John Beilein to call a timeout with less than 90 seconds left, the dull, quiet "Barn" in Minneapolis bellowed out a rousing roar.
Michigan was falling apart and on the verge of suffering its third straight loss -- one that would be the most embarrassing of all and could erase U-M's NCAA Tournament hopes.
But Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman put on his cape and saved the day.
On Michigan's ensuing possession, Abdur-Rahkman corralled Zak Irvin's misdribble and drove the right baseline, burrowing his shoulder into his defender and elevating through contact for an and-one finish to give Michigan a 77-72 edge. Then, after Mason missed a three, Michigan had the chance to seal it with another bucket, but Derrick Walton lost his dribble near the top of the key and handed Minnesota what appeared to be sure-fire fast-break points. However, Abdur-Rahkman hurried back in an instant, poked the ball away from Carlos Morris from behind, got control of it, and threw it off a Gopher before falling out of bounds. It was Michigan's ball with 31 ticks left, and Minnesota had no choice but to foul. Michigan (18-7, 8-4 Big Ten) made enough free throws down the stretch to hold off Minnesota (6-18, 0-12 Big Ten) for a much-needed 82-74 victory.
Abdur-Rahkman was excellent even when he wasn't rescuing U-M. He scored 16 points and had a perfect shooting performance, making all five field goals and all three freebies.
He wasn't the only Wolverine to have a great night either. If Michigan hadn't almost collapsed at the end, Walton would have been the headliner. Not only did he set a career high with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting thanks to some sparkling three-point shooting in the first half, he added eight assists and seven rebounds. In fact, it was Walton that carried Michigan to its large lead. For an eight-minute stretch or so that overlapped the first and second halves, he scored or assisted on 22 of Michigan's 23 points. Then, as the Gophers tried to creep into the game at two different points in the middle of the second period, Walton dished some dazzling assists to maintain U-M's double-digit cushion.
Of course, it wasn't enough to scare Minnesota off in the final seven minutes.
But that's when Abdur-Rahkman made the two biggest plays of the game.
Michigan finishes its season series against Minnesota with a sweep and has won its last nine matchups against the Gophers. The Wolverines host #18 Purdue this Saturday.