NEW YORK CITY — For the past two seasons, the Michigan men’s basketball team has been thoroughly manhandled by Southern Methodist.
Last season in Dallas, the Mustangs (3-1) held the Wolverines scoreless for the last 10 minutes of play to win, 82-58. The year before that, SMU won handily by 24 points.
But Friday night at Madison Square Garden, it was a completely different storyline.
Michigan (4-0) flipped the script from the past two seasons and came out strong, running up a 15-point lead with 3:43 left in the first half. The Wolverines never gave up that lead en route to a 76-54 win and a 2K Classic championship.
“The last loss to SMU, we got punked throughout the whole game,” said senior guard Zak Irvin. “We didn’t want that to happen this game, and we came out with a chip on our shoulder.”
Almost a carbon copy of Thursday night’s game against Marquette, Michigan came out swinging in all facets of the game in the first half.
Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. came out on fire, starting the game with three made 3-pointers in a row. Walton finished with 23 points to lead all scorers after not scoring at all against the Golden Eagles the night before.
“It was good to see (Walton) come out and play,” said Michigan coach John Beilein “He can be an elite shooter, and we’ve seen that. We try to create opportunities for him as well as (let him) lead the floor.”
Overall, Michigan shot a whopping 57.1 percent (16-for-28) in the first half. The Wolverines continued the hot shooting into the second half and finished the game 27-for-51.
In the paint, sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and senior forward Mark Donnal produced a combined 12 points and 7 rebounds in the first half. Even more impressive, the duo held SMU forward and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye to just 13 points, a far cry from the 22.7 that he had averaged in the first three games of the season.
“(Michigan) did a really good job of taking us out of our rhythm,” said SMU coach Tim Jankovich. “I give them some credit, they took us out of some things, and we didn’t really handle it like we needed to.”
Added Irvin: “We know (Ojeleye) is a great player. We knew he was going to come out aggressive, so it was a good matchup with (Wilson), credit to DJ.”
Redshirt sophomore DJ Wilson, in his second start of the season, wasn’t able to replicate his 10-plus rebound stat from the first three games of the season, but he had a respectable six points and four boards in 39 minutes of action.
On the other end of the court, the Wolverines’ aggressive defense held a team that had averaged just under 40 points a half to 26 in the first half as Michigan went into the break up 19.
“We took pride in guarding our man,” Irvin said. “It was huge for us, and especially in the first half, we held SMU to two offensive rebounds.”
In the second half, SMU’s offense did a much better job in its half-court offense setting, but Michigan’s offense was up to the task. The two teams traded buckets for the first five minutes, but the Wolverines’ attack was too much for the Mustangs, and Michigan’s defense stayed steady and ran away with the game.
Many pundits labeled the Wolverines’ trip to New York as their first real test of the season. Leaving Madison Square Garden with two dominant wins, it’s safe to say Michigan passed with flying colors.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Donnal said. “Every single year, we’ve had these preseason tournaments, I think this is the first year we’ve actually won one. It says a lot about this group to start off 4-0.”