It’s fairly clear what to expect from a game in which one side is slated to play perhaps its easiest opponent of the season while the other side plays its toughest.
That was the case heading into Saturday afternoon at Crisler Center, as the No. 14 Michigan men’s basketball team (9-3) prepared to face Presbyterian (2-10). Things turned out just as expected, as the Wolverines claimed a 86-44 victory.
“I had goosebumps and a type of nervous energy at and before the game because you never know exactly how your team is going to approach each and every opponent,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “Our guys were locked in from start to finish. I love the way how we just came out defensively. Being aggressive, doing it without fouling. And not looking at the scoreboard before we got up. We continued to keep playing the game and finished strong.”
The opening minutes were filled with turnovers from both sides. On the first possession of the game, junior guard Eli Brooks made a diving steal near the top of the key. But then senior guard Zavier Simpson soon turned it over on the other end. That didn’t matter though, as the Blue Hose lost possession once again — this time leading to freshman guard Franz Wagner hitting a triple from the left wing to begin a 7-0 run for Michigan.
Within that run was a progression in which Simpson committed another turnover but then chased down the opponent’s ensuing fast break and stole the ball back just in time. That was the theme of the game; by no means did the Wolverines need to play perfectly, and yet at no time were they in any danger.
Michigan faced an injury scare early on, when junior forward Isaiah Livers attempted a dunk. He came down hard when landing and reached for his leg. Livers appeared to have strained a muscle. He took his free throws since he got fouled on the play but never returned to the court for the Wolverines. The status of the injury remains unclear.
“Any time you see someone get hurt you hate to see it,” said senior center Jon Teske. “Especially Isaiah. He’s a high flyer, he can do a little bit of everything for us. With this next five, six days off that we have at home he’ll be able to rest it. Hopefully he’ll be able to play next week.”
Presbyterian struggled to keep up throughout the game. This was evident in a stretch starting just over seven minutes into the contest. The Blue Hose couldn’t get anything going on offense, leading to a shot-clock violation. Right after, sophomore guard Adrien Nunez converted a 3-pointer from the right wing with ease. And then on Presbyterian’s next possession, Brooks intercepted an errant pass near the top of the key and finished it off with a dunk.
Michigan moved the ball smoothly around Presbyterian and generated many clean looks from the perimeter. That was in part because of the Blue Hose’s inability to chase down the Wolverines’ shooters, who finished 11-for-27 from deep. But it was also because every time Michigan started to drive to the basket, Presbyterian had to collapse with multiple defenders to help with containment, thus leaving shooters wide open.
The Blue Hose also lacked an answer for Teske. He had no trouble establishing position down low from the beginning and finished with 15 points.
At halftime the Wolverines led, 38-15, and that margin only widened after the break. Brooks was pivotal in creating that extra separation. He drained two triples and a jumper — in addition to notching a steal — in the first few minutes of the second half, and he finished with a team-high 16 points.
With over 15 minutes to go, junior forward C.J. Baird entered the game. That signified it all — the game was said and done, and the remainder provided Michigan an opportunity to give its bench some minutes.
“All those guys coming in that don’t get a lot of minutes, they get comfortable out there and they get that experience that you need in situations,” Teske said. “Maybe in the next couple of games everybody can go in there for a couple minutes and just help us.”