Tuesday night painted a dramatically different picture. The seventh-ranked Wolverines (12-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) wasted little time reverting to their winning ways, coasting to a wire-to-wire victory over Maryland (8-7, 2-6), 87-63.
“I saw it (the) first day of practice when we returned from Minnesota,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “The mindset on how guys came in and practiced, not looking for excuses. They were all about solutions, what can we do better, what can we do to improve. When you have that type of positive mindset on looking for solutions, it didn’t surprise me how this team was ready to play today.”
Michigan blitzed the Terrapins out of the gate, opening with an 8-0 spurt and never looking back. Graduate transfer guard Mike Smith provided the early impetus, draining three 3-pointers in quick succession. After an underwhelming outing against Minnesota in which he failed to score, Smith, like the rest of his teammates, was quick to right the ship.
“Playing our game and not letting anybody take us out of it, (Howard) preached that,” Smith said. “We watched film and learned from our mistakes. You learn from every mistake you make and you grow from it. I think we’ve shown today we’ve learned from that loss, and we’ve grown from it.”
Senior forward Isaiah Livers followed Smith’s early exploits with a pair of 3-pointers of his own, pushing the lead to 14 just over five minutes in.
“We knew it was going to be a fight,” Livers said. “That first four minutes was going to determine the game, and I feel like we did a great job of jumping on them.”
Even as Maryland contained phenom freshman center Hunter Dickinson — who scored a season-low 3 points in 21 minutes — Michigan’s offense continued to thrive. After struggling with a sea of double-teams against Minnesota, Dickinson consistently found his teammates for open looks and threw just one errant pass. The Wolverines capitalized on the opportunities he created, making 8-of-14 3-pointers in the first half and leading by 17 at the break.
“Hunter didn’t force it,” Howard said. “Understood that when we saw the double team, made plays out of the double team, our guys when they caught it on the perimeter, if they didn’t have an open shot, a guy closed out to him, they saw the next one. … Hunter’s not a stat person. All he cares about is winning.”
The return of senior guard Eli Brooks from a strained right foot reignited Michigan’s potency on both sides of the ball and notably improved its perimeter defense. In the prior matchup between the two teams, the Terrapins lived behind the arc, torching the Wolverines with 13 3-pointers. This time around, those looks didn’t fall — Maryland shot just 2-of-10 from deep in the first half, the main reason why it scored just 25 first-half points.
The second half proved to be more of the same, with Michigan keeping Maryland at arm’s length and not allowing the Terrapins to get back into the game. Eleven seconds in, Brooks drilled a corner three, setting the tone for the remaining 20 minutes.
Unimpeded by turnover woes — the Wolverines committed just 10 turnovers Tuesday after forfeiting 20 to Minnesota — Michigan’s offense hardly took its foot off the gas pedal. With 14:50 still to play, Smith fed a cutting Livers for an easy lay-in, stretching the lead to 23 points. The basket eclipsed the Wolverines’ 57 point showing last time out.
“(It was) the chip on our shoulder,” Smith said. “We never planned on losing, but it happens. … We knew it (was) gonna be a dogfight. We came out here with confidence and played hard and learned from our mistakes. Came out here and played to win, and it showed tonight.”
In the ever-competitive Big Ten, not allowing a loss to snowball into a losing streak is essential. By throttling Maryland, the Wolverines proved they are capable of rebounding from a poor performance and making adjustments in stride.
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