It certainly wasn’t the way the Michigan men’s basketball team had hoped to open its regular season.
After a lackluster start left the Wolverines down seven with 10:18 left in the first half, it would be awhile before things got better. While Michigan eventually powered its way to an 87-67 win over North Florida, it wasn’t pretty, especially at the beginning of the contest.
In the first half, the Wolverines shot a meager 38 percent from the field, were outrebounded 20-14 and gave up a host of good looks on defense, as the Ospreys shot 45 percent from the field and 67 percent from three.
Michigan’s saving grace came from three major offensive contributors. Redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews, junior forward Moritz Wagner and fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson combined for 59 points. With their efforts, along with some timely contributions from role players, Michigan managed to secure a 1-0 record.
The deciding stretch came after a pair of free throws from Ospreys forward Wajid Aminu tied the game with 11:03 left to play. The Wolverines went on an 37-17 run to end the game, using opportunistic defense to force turnovers that resulted in open looks to earn a lead they would never relinquish.
“Little things kind of started to go our way here and there just because I think we had a heightened sense of urgency,” Robinson said. “The game kind of tends to favor the bold in that sense. Being more active, being the aggressor, you get more bounces, get shots to go in. That started happening in the second half.”
Turnovers were ultimately the key to the outcome. North Florida committed 24 of them, and though its hot shooting from deep kept the game close, the task of overcoming their mistakes proved to be too tough for the Ospreys.
“I thought they threw it to us a few times, but we were just trying to just be solid,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Sometimes, if you’re just solid, they’ll run out of options and they’ll throw it away. And that’s really what happened. We weren’t trapping, we were just playing straight, good, hard, pressure defense.”
Michigan won’t have long to ponder on the mistakes that kept this game close for most of its duration, as it will return to Crisler Center on Monday to face Central Michigan.
Though the Wolverines were expected to have some growing pains at the beginning of the season, if they don’t tighten up the basics, even some of their games against lackluster opponents could be contested.