Michigan downs Hillsdale, 92-68, in season opener

By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 15, 2014

Forced to watch from the sideline as the Michigan men’s basketball team raised a Big Ten Championship banner before tip-off, Hillsdale did everything but cower in the face of a formidable opponent in the game’s opening minutes.

The Chargers burst out to a 15-6 lead on the back of 11 points from Stedman Lowry, who began the game by making three straight 3-pointers. But the 24th-ranked Wolverines quickly regained control on their home court, dominating the game’s final 30 minutes en route to a 92-68 victory.

“We had a slow start, and they definitely came out ready to play,” said sophomore forward Zak Irvin. “We had to make some adjustments defensively and offensively as well, and it was nice to see that we were able to make those.”

The adjustments included tightening the defensive gap on Lowry, who was largely an unknown coming into the game. Since Lowry redshirted last season, the Wolverines had no video scouting report or true game plan for dealing with him.

The first half’s turning point came soon after Lowry’s triple from well beyond the arc on the left wing, when Irvin drilled a 3-pointer in response. And following a steal by redshirt freshman forward Mark Donnal, junior guard Caris LeVert added a triple of his own to cut the Hillsdale lead to three.

“I think if they had hit another (3-pointer) and gone to 13-2, I might have used a timeout,” Beilein said, adding that he opted to nurse his team to the under-16 minutes media break instead.

It was smooth sailing from that point onward. The Wolverines closed the half on a 44-18 run thanks to can’t-miss shooting from distance and a shutdown defense that allowed just 18 points in the half’s final 15 minutes.

Michigan kept things simple and classy in its pregame banner-raising ceremony. With the Wolverines’ six-member freshman class watching from a corner, players from the 2013-14 conference championship team received rings and members of the Michigan student section helped raise a “Big Ten Champions: Men’s Basketball 2014” banner to the rafters in Crisler Center’s southwest corner.

The banner raising — though a welcome experience — might have had a few lingering effects, potentially distracting the Wolverines in the early going.

“I’d say (it did distract us) a little bit,” Irvin said, “but we have to remember that was last year’s team, and this is a whole new team.”

Ignoring the fanfare, the Chargers did an admirable job of keeping the game from getting out of hand throughout the second half, even cutting Michigan’s lead to 10 on a Kyle Cooper 3-pointer with 13 minutes remaining in the game.

Cooper carried the Chargers throughout the period, refusing to let the game slip away completely until the game’s final 10 minutes. He finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but couldn’t prevent his team from leaving Ann Arbor having suffered an expected blowout loss.

“Kyle’s a really good player,” Beilein said. “He was impressive tonight. My hat goes off to him.”

For the first time since December 10, 2011, three Wolverines scored at least 20 points: Sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. had 22, Irvin 21 and LeVert 20.

LeVert flirted with a triple-double throughout the evening, eventually settling for eight rebounds and nine assists.

“I probably could’ve gotten another rebound and couple more assists,” LeVert said, smiling.

Parents, captains and rings: Several members of Michigan’s 2013-2014 Big Ten Championship team — Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan — were missing from the pregame banner-raising ceremony. They sent their parents instead, and Beilein presented a championship ring to each parental unit during the pregame festivities.

Michigan also made a widely assumed leadership decision official during the ceremony, naming LeVert and Albrecht team captains and allowing the pair to present Beilein with his championship ring.

“We make a big deal of that in our locker room, but we don’t make a big deal of it outside,” Beilein said.

Freshmen: Six Michigan freshmen made their debuts in the game: Forwards Aubrey Dawkins, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman, along with guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Austin Hatch.

Dawkins impressed immediately with a 3-pointer just seconds after checking into the game in the first half, which he followed up soon after with a soaring offensive rebound that elicited oohs and ahs from the crowd at the Crisler Center.