ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Here’s how good you need to be on the road in Big Ten basketball:
If your acclaimed depth is shallower than usual and your touted offensive efficiency isn’t nearly as effective as normal, it won’t be just an elite player like Nik Stauskas who will beat you. A Spike Albrecht will do it, too.
Wednesday in Crisler Center, Michigan utilized the gifted Stauskas, the gifted Glenn Robinson, the gifted Jordan Morgan, and other gifted players in vanquishing Iowa, 75-67.
But little Spike Albrecht was what too many Hawkeyes weren’t. He was as sharp as, well, a spike.
Albrecht had an unreal performance in last April’s national-title game, scoring 17 points in the first-half to help Michigan build a 33-21 lead before it lost to Louisville, 82-76.
Until then, he had topped five points on just four occasions and had never scored more than seven. He had only played 20 minutes or more twice this season, backing up freshman Derrick Walton Jr.
But with Walton fighting off a stomach ailment, Albrecht played 35 good minutes Wednesday, better than any guard in the game except for sniper Stauskas.
Iowa had cut a 12-point deficit to 64-60 and had a fast break with just under four minutes left. But Albrecht swiped the ball, then fed freshman Zak Irvin for a 3-pointer.
“It was a 2-on-1,” the 5-foot-11 Albrecht said. “I’m too little. I knew we were kind of screwed either way. I was able to jump it, and Zak knocked down a big shot for us.”
The Hawkeyes made one more push to get within 67-64, but Albrecht had a perfect lob to Robinson for a basket and a 69-64 lead with 2:05 left. It was never again a one-possession game.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore making his first college start had seven points, seven assists (six in the second-half), four steals and zero turnovers. It was a better overall statistical line than anything Iowa’s more-experienced guards produced.
Iowa’s bench mustered just eight points. Albrecht left Michigan’s bench to start for freshman Derrick Walton Jr., who had flu-like symptoms the day before, and was only used for three minutes.
Stauskas was the star of the game with 26 points, hands down. He is an elite player, and so is Robinson. Both are headed to the NBA. Robinson will go next year. Stauskas?
This week on SI.com, Stauskas’ father, Paul, said “He knows all he has to do is keep his nose to the grindstone for another couple of months, and there’s a really good possibility he might be able to go pro. He’s working really hard to achieve that.”
“I apologize for my father’s comment,” Nik said after Wednesday’s game. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
No matter. You have to come at a team with two elite players like that with your full swarm buzzing. The Hawkeyes didn’t swarm Wednesday.
It’s college basketball. You don’t swarm every time out, especially on the road when the opponent is as strong-willed and savvy as the Wolverines were this night.
“Our bench was a little gun-shy tonight, I thought,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s not typically what those guys are. They play with a reckless abandon when necessary four our team, and that’s how I want them to play.”
Michigan won the battle of the tempo. The students here often got to chant “10-9-8-7” to let their guys know the shot clock was winding down. That wasn’t a bad thing for the Wolverines.
“We had a good pace,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said. “We ran what we wanted to run.
“We just beat a real good team. We’re really pleased about it. We figured it out. Just enough. I felt charged up and our team was really charged up by this win.”
It wasn’t a terrible loss for the Hawkeyes, or even close to one. They played a flawed game away from home against a formidable foe and were still a made shot or two and one less turnover or two from stealing a win.
Truly good teams shake it off and swarm whomever is up next. That’s Northwestern Saturday. If the Hawkeyes are focused, this game should be but a blip.
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