John Beilein said the defense in the last four minutes of each half in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 73-70 overtime loss against Virginia Tech on Wednesday night was “some of the worst defense (he’d) ever seen.”
For the Michigan head coach and his team, Saturday afternoon’s start against Kennesaw State (3-6) wasn’t much better.
The Owls took advantage of a couple missed assignments by Michigan and coupled them with some big shots to start the game strong. At one point, Kennesaw State found itself up by two with 11:15 remaining in the first half. But the Wolverines (6-2) righted the ship after that, beating the Owls, 82-55.
“We bounced back today,” Beilein said. “We answered (Kennesaw State’s) first 10 minutes when they played straight up.”
Unlike the last four minutes of Wednesday’s game, though, Michigan’s offense played much better, shooting 57.1 percent in the first half.
After a big night for sophomore forward Moritz Wagner against Virginia Tech that saw him score 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, he followed it up with another strong offensive performance. Wagner put up 14 points in the first half to lead Michigan and ended the game with a career-high 20 on 7-of-8 shooting, which included 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
But Wagner was quick to point out the Wolverines’ defensive prowess.
“I’m very happy about the (scoring) obviously,” Wagner said. “But I’m more happy about how we got out there defensively.”
“They usually score a good amount of points, in the 80s, and we held them down to 55.”
Kennesaw State held serve for most of the first half, much to the credit of guard Kendrick Ray, who led all scorers in the opening period with 15 points. Ray finished with 24 points.
“(Ray is) a really talented player,” Beilein said. “A fifth-year guy, averaging 22 points per game, and he’s one of the better guards we’ll see this year in terms of scoring guards.”
The Wolverines started to pull away with just under five minutes remaining in the first half. Wagner rattled home a 3-pointer with 4:29 to go in the half, initiating a 17-2 run from which the Owls couldn’t ever fully recovered. Michigan led, 47-29, at halftime.
The Wolverines carried their solid defense into the second half, when they held Kennesaw State to no points for almost five minutes. Michigan limited the Owls to just 26 points total in the second frame.
After redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson registered just two points and one rebound Wednesday against Virginia Tech before fouling out, he responded with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his second career double-double.
“I like that (Wilson) has some athleticism and a desire to get in there and mix it up,” Beilein said. “For him to get a double-double, it’s good that he’s mixing it up. That was not happening a couple years ago. He was drifting out by the (3-point line).”
And after putting up 23 points on Wednesday, senior forward Zak Irvin replicated his offensive performance, scoring 19 points, with many of his points coming on drives to the basket.
Saturday marked the second time that the Wolverines have emphatically responded to a crushing loss in their young season. And with Texas and No. 11 UCLA, which upset No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday, looming in the upcoming week, the question for Michigan will be if it can replicate its performance in the next couple games.