With a little more than three minutes left in the first half and the Maize Rage counting down the ticking seconds left on the shot clock, Trey Burke tried creating space for himself, going first to his left and then to his right.
Five. Four. Three.
Freshman guard Caris LeVert stood alone at the top of the key, so Burke passed to him, and out of desperation, LeVert heaved up the first shot of his career, barely beating the buzzer.
Moments later, the situation repeated itself, this time with freshman guard Nik Stauskas launching the shot with the clock winding down. And after drawing an offensive foul on the other end, another freshman, forward Mitch McGary, finished an easy layup, capping a 15-2 Wolverine run to give No. 3 Michigan an 18-point advantage after another sluggish start to a game.
After each team scored just one field goal — both 3-pointers — in the second half’s first four minutes, the Wolverines pulled away with an 11-2 run to extend their lead to 23, and hung on to win easily, 73-41, over Western Michigan.
In the second half, the Broncos (6-2) couldn’t keep up. Michigan’s decisive run began with Stauskas’s second 3-pointer of the half and was punctuated by back-to-back and-1s from freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and Burke.
Burke led all scorers with 20 points — two short of his season high — and also dished out seven assists. Perhaps more impressively, he finished with no turnovers, while recording three steals.
“He’s got an edge of toughness and a pace to him that he understands when we need him to do more and when we need him to just find these good shooters we have around him,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Added Burke: “(The Broncos) were giving me the elbow jump shot, and that’s the shot that I’ve been working on with Coach (LaVall Jordan). He told me that that shot would be there. Once they started taking that away, that’s when I would start kicking it out. I don’t ever really look for my offense. I always … play off of what the defense is giving me.”
After Burke, Michigan (8-0) relied on a wealth of diverse scoring options, including 18 points from the bench. Just two other players — Stauskas (11 points) and McGary (10 points) — scored in double figures, with Stauskas knocking down 3-of-4 of his 3-pointers. Junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Robinson each struggled to find the bottom of the net, shooting a combined 6-for-20. But on this night, it didn’t matter as the Wolverines outscored Western Michigan, 38-19, in the second half.
“It’s good to rotate everyone in there, because you never know who we’re going to need at what point in the season,” said redshirt junior Jordan Morgan. “We’ve got to have that ‘next man up’ mentality as Coach (Jordan) says, where the next guy’s ready to step up and fill in.
“It is refreshing to be able to play whoever and they come in and get the job done.”
Despite 10 first-half points from Burke, Michigan failed early on to do what it had done so well for much of the season. The Wolverines shot just 3-of-10 from 3-point range in the opening stanza and were outrebounded, 16-12. The Broncos trailed by 14 at the half, 35-21, thanks largely to five first-half offensive boards that helped keep them within reach.
“If you looked at our faces in the first 10 minutes, we did not predict that outcome,” Beilein said. “The ball was flying around. They’ve got a great scheme that they’re running and they ran it with such speed and precision (that) our heads were spinning.”
But in the second half, Michigan improved on both statistics, shooting 5-for-11 from 3-point land to finish with a 38.1 percent mark and winning the overall rebounding battle, 35-31.
Forward Darius Paul was the only Bronco to score in double figures, finishing with just 10 points. Though 10 Western Michigan players scored, the team shot just 28.1 percent from the field, made just 2-of-17 3-pointers and turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 22 Michigan points.
NOTES: Redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt, who played nine minutes in Saturday’s win over Bradley, sprained his ankle during practice on Tuesday and missed Wednesday’s game.
“It’s a pretty good sprain,” Beilein said, adding that he isn’t sure if the forward will be available for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. “It’s blown up pretty good … We’re hoping it’s not going to be more serious than a week or two.”