By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 7, 2013
Wedged between two of the Michigan basketball team’s toughest opponents on the schedule, Houston Baptist felt the Wolverines’ unchecked wrath on Saturday at Crisler Center.
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Following a decisive loss to Duke on Tuesday and before it hosts likely-No. 1 Arizona next Saturday, Michigan took the opportunity to get its punches in, more than doubling up a weak Southland Conference opponent, 107-53.
The 22nd-ranked Wolverines were in full fun mode against the Huskies, pushing the fastbreak — often times with 6-foot-10 Mitch McGary being the point man — as well as throwing alley-oops and manufacturing crafty passes to find the open man in transition.
Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas returned to form to lead the 3-point barrage, scoring 25 points on 6-for-9 3-point shooting. This came after an ankle injury held him out against Coppin State last Friday and may have lingered in a woeful four-point performance in the Duke loss. It was a welcome comeback for a player whose most notable achievement this past week was finding himself at No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 for tossing his dispatched shoe into the Duke student section.
“Obviously the Duke game was a struggle for all of us pretty much, and to get back out here and hit some shots and get a win, that definitely helps with our confidence,” Stauskas said.
Experiencing no impediment to finding open space behind the 3-point line, the Wolverines (6-3) buried 16 3-pointers en route to their highest scoring output of the season.
The Huskies (3-6) kept pace with Michigan early, at least for the first six minutes when they trailed just 18-15.
But Michigan finished the half on a 42-19 run, punctuated by effortless alley-oops to sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and 3-balls from Stauskas. Impressively enough, the Huskies still shot 67 percent in the half. Problem for them was that Michigan wouldn’t give them the ball unless it after a Wolverine basket.
“I’ve never seen an 18-to-1 assist-turnover (ratio) at halftime,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Or a game or whatever. In order to get the extra pass, you got to have penetration. You’ve got to go north-south a little bit, you’ve got to screen well, and we were able to do that.”
The Crisler Center crowd experienced a brief spell of terror early in the second half as McGary went down hard after his legs got tangled on a blocked-shot attempt. The sophomore forward laid on the ground, rolling, grimacing and grabbing his knee.
But after a few moments, McGary got up, started jogging around and tried to wave off Beilein’s substitution. But redshirt junior Jon Horford entered the game, and McGary ran off the court only to throw up his arms to pump up the Maize Rage from the bench.
Later in the half, McGary grabbed defensive rebounds on three consecutive possessions, each time pushing the ball all the way down the court.
“Any time he gets a rebound and he’s just going by himself, we’re OK with that,” Stauskas said. “Sometimes he’s going to make a bad decision here or there, but for the most part he’s gonna either score the basket or find someone who’s open.”
On the first occasion, he passed off to sophomore guard Caris LeVert, who was fouled and made both free throws. The next time, he took it himself, converting the layup and making the free throw to complete the and-one. Next trip down, he fed Stauskas on the left side for a 3-pointer.
“First of all, I don’t think anyone wants to step in front of him,” Stauskas said. “You saw it today, he got the and-one. He just took it all the way and no one really stopped the ball.”
McGary later laughed off Big Ten Network commentator Seth Davis calling him a freight train.
He was one of five Wolverines who scored in double digits in a game where everyone except two walk-ons made it in the scoring column. Robinson added 17 points and the two freshman guards, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin each put up 14 on combined 8-for-10 shooting.
Off to a sluggish start this season, Robinson made an effort to take on a more vocal leadership role in practice on Friday, according to McGary and Beilein. McGary said that Robinson showed up with the “Yes face” that Beilein often harps on.
As soon as the game was over, it was all eyes on next week’s matchup against the undefeated Wildcats, who will likely move into the No. 1 rank following Michigan State’s loss on Wednesday.