Dec. 1, 2016
By Steve Kornacki
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Duncan Robinson is showing that he can do much more than hit long-range jumpers. He made a team-high 95 three-pointers last season and was second in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation with a 45-percent rate of success on 211 attempts.
That marksmanship got him on the map but also made the 6-foot-8 Michigan transfer from Division III Williams College a marked man. Opponents figured out how to deny him, and Robinson struggled to both get open and vary his shot selection.
However, he's taken Wolverine head coach John Beilein's challenge to become a better all-around player, and his more-complete game nearly helped his team avoid a 73-70 loss Wednesday night (Nov. 30) to Virginia Tech.
Robinson stepped up down the stretch, doing about everything he could to keep a once-solid 10-point lead from disappearing. And once the Hokies took the lead, it was Robinson who nearly forced overtime.
He took a pair of charges in the final five minutes to get the ball back twice, drawing the fifth foul on Virginia Tech starting forward Ahmed Hill with the first of those.
Robinson drove to the basket for two points and finished off a wild possession with a three-pointer that made it a one-point deficit with 42 seconds remaining.
The Wolverines found themselves down by three points prior to their final possession and were going to have to execute and get some breaks to get the ball the length of the court for a trey attempt with a reasonable chance of going down.
So, with 3.2 seconds left, Michigan was inbounding once again, but this time with a much better chance at getting a good shot. Moritz Wagner, aka "Moe," saved the inbounds pass from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that went from near the Wolverines' bench to the far corner. Wagner then got the ball to Robinson just in time to get off a three-pointer, but the shot hit the back of the rim and swirled out as the buzzer sounded.
"It was a good play by Coach B," Robinson said of Beilein. "It was a great pass, first by Muhammad and then Moe. I've just got to make that instead of miss it."
Michigan had a tough loss to swallow in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown between a pair of teams that both brought 5-1 records into the game.
Robinson came off the bench to score 15 points, making three-of-eight treys and going six-for-11 on field goal attempts.
"Duncan coming off the bench is what we did not have last year -- a guy coming off the bench that can consistently give you a good game," said Beilein, who started Robinson in 27 of 36 games last season. "So, having a guy come off the bench like that is huge.
"And then having a guy like that take charges. I mean, he took like five or six charges in this game."
Beilein started Robinson in the first two games this season but has gotten much better production from him coming off the bench in the last five. D.J. Wilson, a versatile 6-foot-10 junior, is one of the most improved players on the team and has settled into the starting lineup the last five games as the leading rebounder.
However, Robinson also has shown improvement in his all-around game.
"It's been two years (here) that he's just worked and worked on his body to get every bit of athleticism he can out of his body," said Beilein. "But you can see at times that he still has to get better, and he'll work at it the next year and a half."
Robinson sat out one season at Michigan after transferring following one season at Williams College. Last year was his first for the Wolverines, and he averaged 11.2 points during a hot-and-cold season. But he keeps coming and has this and the next season remaining in college eligibility.
"He's a great kid to coach," said Beilein, "and he's really focused on improving with his defense."
Robinson is averaging only 6.7 points per game after seven contests, but this was the first game in which he earned 30 minutes after averaging 17.2 minutes per game. Wilson also got into foul trouble and fouled out with three minutes remaining.
Michigan was fortunate to have Robinson, who was literally and figuratively a take-charge player down the stretch.
He planted both feet, got into a defensive set possession and drew charges twice in the final five minutes and also throughout the game.
"I'm just trying to be a good team defender," said Robinson.
Still, it was 21-8 for Virginia Tech in the final seven minutes.
"We didn't do a great job defensively," said Robinson. "We didn't make it hard to play (against us) down the stretch. We've just got to be a lot cleaner on both ends of the court."
The Wolverines have lost two of their last three games after getting off to a 4-0 start and a No. 25 national ranking. They got noticed after convincingly beating both Marquette and SMU to win the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Now they need to regroup and regain what they had in New York City.
"I think we have to embrace being tougher," said Robinson, "and that's across the board. You know, obviously, this is a tough one to stomach. But we've got to learn from it and go from there."
Robinson had five points, and Abdur-Rahkman scored three points in the final seven minutes, when nobody else scored.
Senior Zak Irvin, who finished a season-high 23 points that he's topped only twice in his career, couldn't score with the game on the line. However, he credited Robinson for his efforts down the stretch.
"He was a huge spark plug for us," said Irvin. "He came off the bench and was able to make big shots for us, and also play well defensively. To take those charges for us, that's huge for our defense. We've just got to keep that going forward."
Robinson showed he can make a real impact as the team's sixth man.