Nobody thought much of this Michigan team.
Nobody thought they would finish beyond the middle of the pack in their conference.
Nobody thought they would go to the Bahamas and come back with a trophy.
Three days and three quality wins later, the Wolverines are proving that they have a lot more potential than anyone was giving them credit for. They defeated No. 8 Gonzaga, 82-64, on Friday in the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, their second win over a top-10 team in as many days, as their defense stifled the Bulldogs’ imposing transition offense.
“We’re here to win,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “They believe in it, they trust in it, and it worked. At the end of the day, I’m just so proud of this group, and how they competed throughout the weekend.”
The Wolverines started the game playing from behind, as Gonzaga’s size and speed up front helped the Bulldogs out to a quick start, but Michigan seem to find its composure around the 13-minute mark, going on a 10-0 run and eventually taking the lead as their shots started to fall and their defense started to have more success.
From there, the game was closely matched, but the Wolverines were much more confident than they had initially, contesting more rebounds and playing more aggressively in their frontcourt. It was most notable in senior center Jon Teske, who was visibly fired up as his shots kept finding the net late in the first half, and especially after he tipped in a rebound of a missed three-point attempt from junior guard Eli Brooks to put Michigan up by eleven going into the halftime break.
“As a senior now, I gotta be a leader,” Teske, who finished with 19 points, said. “I came in and I knew my role. Everyone knows their role at a certain point, and now there’s been a chance as I’ve gotten older, as a junior and senior, where I just gotta lead the younger guys, and just try and help the team win, and we’re having fun doing it.”
Sophomore guard David DeJulius also looked good for Michigan on Friday, moving nicely inside the paint and passing well. He has seen more minutes recently, playing 66 minutes over the three tournament games in the Bahamas, and has flourished in the sixth-man role, leading the bench all season.
The Wolverines started slow again coming out of the break, not scoring until three and a half minutes into the second half, giving the Zags a chance to go on a 10-0 run of their own. Michigan did eventually warm back up, though, and seized control of the game around the 14-minute mark, taking a 12-point lead on back-to-back threes from freshman guard Franz Wagner and junior forward Isaiah Livers and then expanding it to a 19-point margin around the 11-minute mark. From there, the game and the championship were never in question.
Michigan is as of yet unranked, something that is likely to change after tournament wins over the Bulldogs as well as Iowa State on Wednesday and No. 6 North Carolina on Thursday. The Wolverines head into a tough midweek away game against potential No. 1 Louisville on Tuesday, another chance to prove themselves against high-level competition, but the top priority for now is staying in the rhythm they’ve found these last few games.
“We just keep grinding,” Livers said. “We don’t really pay attention to all the media stuff. We want to play Michigan basketball, and that’s all – that’s all – we’re going to be focused on. We’re not focused on any rankings, or any of that outside mess that people want to talk about. We play for each other.”