December 05, 2014

Knowing how valuable early victories can be later on, Michigan coach John Beilein has been pleased with his team's play through the first three weeks of the season.

Back on track after their first defeat, the No. 17 Wolverines look to continue their home success over unranked, non-conference opponents Saturday versus NJIT.

Michigan (6-1) rebounded from a five-point loss to then-No. 12 Villanova at the Legends Classic by blowing out Nicholls State last Saturday, then received a bigger boost with Tuesday's 68-65 win over a Syracuse team that began the season in the Top 25.

Zak Irvin scored a team-high 18 points and Spike Albrecht's tiebreaking 3-pointer with 31 seconds left helped the Wolverines win their 37th straight home contest over an unranked opponent outside the Big Ten. That streak dates back to a loss to Boston College on Dec. 2, 2009.

"I think December wins are really good for your resume later on, but there's so much of the season left to go," said Beilein, whose program has won 23 straight December games against unranked teams.

"For us, we feel good in the marathon at the five- or the eight-mile mark. There's so much more to play, but it's good."

Starting two freshmen and two sophomores, Beilein should be happy with the resiliency his team showed against the Orange.

Michigan, which blew a 10-point, second-half lead, overcame a season-low 38.5-percent shooting performance by setting season highs with 17 offensive rebounds, 19 assists and 19 turnovers forced that resulted in 20 points.

"(That game) was a big step for our team," said Albrecht, who finished with 11 points and a career-high nine assists.

Michigan's top reserve, Albrecht has already shown some resiliency of his own.

Having blossomed from the unknown freshman who had 17 points in the 2013 national title game loss to Louisville to a team captain as a junior, Albrecht has totaled 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting - 5 of 8 from beyond the arc - in the last two games. He had only 22 points through the first five contests as he shot 33.3 percent overall and missed 7 of 11 3-point attempts. He also recorded half of his 32 assists and didn't have a single turnover against Nicholls and Syracuse.

"This young man has worked his whole life and really changed the minds of a lot of doubters that he can play at this level against a high-level backcourt like Syracuse," Beilein said. "It's good for him to have this game.

"Now it's over and we have another game on Saturday and we'll see what we can do."

Michigan faces NJIT (2-5) for the first time and has another potential tune-up versus Eastern Michigan on Tuesday before visiting third-ranked Arizona next Saturday.

Division I's only independent team, NJIT could provide a legitimate challenge to the Wolverines after winning 84-81 at Duquesne and losing by five points at Marquette last week. The Highlanders lost 71-67 at UMass-Lowell on Wednesday.

Averaging a team-leading 18.6 points, 5-foot-11 guard Damon Lynn has scored 51 in the last two games while hitting 12 of 24 from 3-point range.

The Highlanders are facing their first Top 25 opponent since becoming a Division I member in 2006.

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