Roy Williams stood in front of a crowd of media, castigating both his team and himself. It was about 11:40 on Wednesday night, and North Carolina had just met Michigan — the type of team that can drive coaches to this sort of frustration.
“Guys, I got no positive things,” the Tar Heels’ coach said. “If you want some positive things, you better go find somebody on the street.
“… I’ve coached for 31 years. Right now, my coaching sucks.”
A little later, it was Wolverines’ coach John Beilein at the podium, singing a different tune.
“That’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had,” Beilein said, disposition sunny. “… It’s not like we’re trying to frustrate you. We’re trying to keep people from scoring baskets.”
That they did — and about as well as you could ask, holding No. 11 North Carolina (6-2) nearly 30 points below its season average, as No. 7 Michigan (7-0) engineered a domineering 84-67 win.
It was the type of win that makes you think the Wolverines can contend for a national title, and when they opened the second half by jumping out to a double-digit lead — a lob from junior point guard Zavier Simpson to junior center Jon Teske prompting a timeout from Williams — Crisler Center sounded like the home of a national contender.
On the other end of that timeout, Michigan started to break the game open, leading into the under-16 timeout with another Teske dunk. After Simpson missed a layup a couple minutes later, redshirt junior Charles Matthews slammed it back home for an and-one, sending the crowd — and the Wolverines’ bench — into hysterics and bringing the lead to 14.
When North Carolina’s Leaky Black tried a driving layup, Matthews put an exclamation mark on the night, blocking the ball past the cameramen seated along the baseline, flexing for the cameras and shouting amidst a sea of noise.
“Charles has possessed the defense,” Beilein said. “He and Zavier are the most driven defensive players I’ve ever coached. This is what they want to do. And the offense is sort of residual out of it.”
Just after the 12-minute mark, sophomore guard Jordan Poole nailed a corner 3-pointer, bringing the lead to 20, enough to stave off North Carolina’s attempt at a late comeback.
The Tar Heels managed to cut the lead to 11 with 5:29 to go after Kenny Williams hit two straight 3-pointers. But after another Matthews triple, followed by four straight points from freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis, the Tar Heels’ hopes were right back where they had started.
This was a game that — at one point — the visiting team led 21-11, looking to coast. But after Simpson quelled an early 8-0 North Carolina run with a steal in the backcourt and subsequent layup, Michigan settled in.
Immediately following, freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis led a 9-0 run for the Wolverines, hitting a 3-pointer and notching an and-one after the under-12 timeout. Shortly after, Eli Brooks put Michigan in front, 22-21, with a 3-pointer of his own.
Right before halftime, the Wolverines broke a tie after Simpson managed to pass his way out of a half-court trap, the ball eventually finding Charles Matthews for an open 3-pointer. Poole followed that with another three — this one just before the buzzer — after a loose ball sent Jon Teske sprawling on the floor in a mad scramble, coming up with the basketball to give Michigan a four-point halftime lead.
“7-foot-1 guys don’t go and get that ball like that,” Beilein said. “So he didn’t shoot the ball well, didn’t shoot foul (shots) well — he’s such a huge presence for us, defensively.”
That momentum carried into the second half, Poole providing the nail in the coffin with a stepback 3-pointer, and the Wolverines leaving Crisler Center with no doubt about where they stand — in both the Big Ten and the national title picture.
“It just felt really good, but we can’t dwell on this victory,” Brazdeikis said. “This is just a November win for us, it’s only the beginning. It’s a big mark for us, it shows us where we’re at, but we need to continue to improve.”
For a November win, it makes quite a statement.