- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - This is the new normal for Michigan - two of its best players on crutches while the likes of Spike Albrecht, Max Bielfeldt and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman try to push the Wolverines into the NCAA tournament.

That’s not what this team planned for at the beginning of the season, but the injury-plagued Wolverines nearly upset rival Michigan State on Sunday before going scoreless in overtime and losing 76-66. Michigan was already without Caris LeVert, lost for the season because of a foot injury, and now the Wolverines well be without fellow guard Derrick Walton for a while too. He’s been dealing with toe problems.

Walton also missed Michigan’s previous game against Nebraska, and now it looks like his absence will be an extended one.

“I think we have an idea of what’s going on,” coach John Beilein said. “I don’t expect him back too soon.”

Albrecht and Abdur-Rahkman scored 18 points apiece, leading the Michigan offense as Zak Irvin continued to struggle from 3-point range. But the Wolverines finally ran out of answers late. They allowed a 9-0 Michigan State run toward the end of regulation, and although Bielfeldt’s tip-in forced overtime, Michigan didn’t score again.

“In overtime, we just didn’t seem to have the same juice we had in the second half,” Albrecht said. “I don’t know if it was the crowd or guys got tired or what.”

Michigan lost four straight in December, including surprising home defeats against the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines have been trying to make up for that ever since, and the injuries to LeVert and Walton have made their task even more difficult. They lost to Wisconsin in overtime, and the game against Michigan State was another near-miss against a good opponent.

Abdur-Rahkman, who was averaging 2.3 points per game coming in, looked confident from the beginning against the Spartans, scoring seven points in the first half despite being limited by foul trouble. Albrecht reached double figures for the first time in seven games.

“I thought we were relentless out there. They had several runs, and we just kept clawing back,” Albrecht said. “So I was really happy with the effort and proud of the way we competed in a hostile environment.”

Michigan, which has struggled this season at the offensive end, kept up with the Spartans despite the fact that Michigan State shot 71 percent from the field in the second half. But after Aubrey Dawkins put the Wolverines up by four with a three-point play with 5:06 remaining, Michigan didn’t score again until the final minute of regulation. Then the Wolverines were blanked in overtime.

“I like to think of it more as a really close overtime game instead of the disappointing way we played in overtime,” Beilein said. “We’ll grow from it. I talked a lot about how failure is a fertilizer for growth, so we had all kinds of sprinkles of fertilizer out there today.”


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