In the Michigan men’s basketball team’s highest-scoring effort since 1998, an unlikely cast of characters brought Crisler Crisler to its feet.
In first-year coach Juwan Howard’s fourth game, the Wolverines routed Houston Baptist, 111-68, on Friday night. While junior forward Isaiah Livers and senior point guard Zavier Simpson poured in a combined 46 points, Michigan’s bench players weren’t overreacting and holding each other back after any of their baskets.
Instead, that reaction came when roles were reversed. With the Wolverines sitting on a 40-point cushion, Livers and Simpson watched from the bench as Michigan’s reserves and practice players put on a show at the end of the game.
Against the Huskies, every player saw the court.
“I think it’s really fun just to get all the guys involved,” said sophomore forward Colin Castleton. “(They) worked all summer with us. They’re in here every day, blood, sweat and tears with us as well.
“They’re just waiting for an opportunity like tonight to show everybody how hard they’ve worked and everything they’ve worked on.”
Redshirt junior center Austin Davis, who began last season as the primary backup center before ultimately falling out of the rotation, was the first domino to fall. It didn’t take him long to throw down a two-handed dunk, beat his defender on the block for another easy bucket and grab three rebounds.
Junior walk-on forward CJ Baird — who’s known to have a perpetual green light to let 3-pointers fly in blowouts — checked in two minutes later. Then on cue, he promptly drained a three.
“(Simpson and I) were trying our best not to watch the scoreboard,” Livers said. “ … (But) it got to the point where we got CJ (Baird) in there, and you know CJ’s gonna let that ball up.”
By the end of the game, Michigan found itself rolling with a lineup of Davis, Baird, junior walk-on guards Rico Ozuna-Harrison and Luke Wilson and junior walk-on forward Jaron Faulds. For the latter three, Friday night marked their season debuts.
Faulds, in particular, saw his first dose of playing time in a Michigan jersey after transferring from Columbia in 2018. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, he sank a pair of free throws in the final minutes against Houston Baptist.
Combined, the Wolverines’ final five substitutions scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, though the game was well out of hand by the time any of them saw the floor. From free throws to dunks, every point the unit scored earned a rousing applause and an equally electric bench reaction.
From Howard’s perspective, there couldn’t have been a more fitting end to a historic night.
“They deserve to play, it’s that simple,” Howard said. “ … It’s inspiring to see how hard they work in practice. I coach Rico just like how I coach Zavier. I coach Jaron just like how I coach (senior center) Jon (Teske). There’s no difference, there’s no dropoff. I don’t treat anyone different.”
Added Livers: “We do it for our walk-ons, man. … People don’t get to see the behind the scenes. Honestly, we should do a documentary on our practice players because they’re just as valuable.”