Michigan couldn’t stop turning the ball over. South Carolina couldn’t stop fouling.
It was as sloppy a game as either team has played all season. But with a few offensive rebounds, a few free throws and a lot of Jordan Poole, the fifth-ranked Wolverines held off the Gamecocks (4-5), 89-78, to improve to 10-0.
Saturday’s game at Crisler Center was promoted as a “Poole Party,” and in front of a Maize Rage clad in pool floaties and beach attire, the sophomore guard did his part in aiding the theme. With 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting and 4-for-7 beyond the arc, Poole paced Michigan with a career-high in scoring.
"That's the Jordan we know,” said sophomore forward Isaiah Livers. “He can score at all three levels for sure. You know he's going to take those threes — step-back threes — and he’s got to get one of those out of his system."
The fans who came for the Poole party certainly got their money’s worth. But that was about all they got.
Poole’s huge game notwithstanding, the Wolverines put forth a thoroughly uninspiring performance against a South Carolina team which came in with losses to Stony Brook, Wofford and Wyoming.
The Gamecocks deserve plenty of credit, however. The 25th-fastest team in the nation, per KenPom, they succeeded in turning the game into a track meet, putting up 62 shots and hitting 32 of them. On offense, they funneled the ball through their big men, as forwards Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar and Keyshawn Bryant all scored in double figures.
“Our defense was not great,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “It's a tough matchup for us inside, and I think we got to get better at helping (junior center Jon Teske) in the post. Little upset at our team that the scouting report said Silva's going to go right, he's going to go right, he's going to go right, and he went right and we still fouled him.”
At the start, it appeared as if Michigan would simply run away with a routine win against an overmatched opponent. Teske flushed a midrange jumper to give the Wolverines an 11-6 lead at the under-16 media timeout.
But South Carolina hung around, as it would all game. With 9:36 remaining in the first half, Kotsar banked home a baby hook to put the Gamecocks up three.
The Wolverines vastly aided matters by turning the ball over five times in the first six minutes — three of which came from Poole — and 11 times in the first half overall.
“We had some really careless (turnovers),” Beilein said. “ … But we had a few of those. But that’s them. They're good, and you have to be able to adjust to that, and that's why the game was really close.”
Michigan’s saving grace in the first half was its ability to get to the line, as it already was in the double bonus with seven minutes left in the first half. Poole and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis took advantage of an aggressive South Carolina defense that committed 21 fouls for the game. The duo combined to hit 11 of a combined 13 free throws as the Wolverines took a 42-36 lead into halftime.
The other main positive for Michigan was its offensive rebounding, as it grabbed a season-high 13. Two minutes into the second half, redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews grabbed a board off a miss, darted back to the 3-point line and drilled a trey on the ensuing possession.
Poole hit a triple of his own on the Wolverines’ next trip down the court, and finished a wide-open fastbreak dunk minutes later to put them up by 11.
With every big shot by Michigan, however, the Gamecocks seemed to have an answer. After a highlight-reel pull-up trey by Poole with 12 minutes to play, South Carolina cut it to single digits with inside buckets.
Teske powered down an alley-oop with 6:21 remaining to put Crisler Center on its feet, setting the Wolverines up 16 with what seemed to be a finishing blow. But three minutes later, the Gamecocks shot back within striking distance after a basket by Kotsar made the score 82-73.
In the end, the outcome was never really in doubt. Michigan shot 52 percent from the field, 42 percent from deep and 77 percent from the foul line. The 16 turnovers it committed were an ugly blemish, but not enough to cost it a victory.
South Carolina, however, made sure it wasn’t a pretty one.
“Today we didn't play that well defensively,” Teske said. “Lot of letdowns, but we got some key stops. Our offense carried us — everyone scored, I don't know how many (Poole) had but he had a great game, (Livers) came out shooting really well. But when we have our offense clicking, it's hard to beat us.”