It was halftime and John Beilein was at a loss.
The Michigan men’s basketball coach couldn’t draw up any new plays for his team, which was leading by just five against Binghamton (4-10).
The shots were there for the taking. The Bearcats ran a zone defense but didn’t execute it particularly well, leaving not only open looks from beyond the arc but also a gap near the foul line. But the second-ranked Wolverines (13-0, 2-0 Big Ten) had bricked shot after shot. One scoring drought of six minutes and another of 3:15 had halted any momentum. The only bright spot was sophomore guard Jordan Poole, who started off the game with a trey and hit three more in the half.
The players knew as well as Beilein that they were attacking the right spots. It was just a matter of finding the net.
“(Binghamton) had a great plan,” Beilein said. “Shorten the game, make us make a 15-footer, which we had a dreadful time doing. I didn’t have plays. If they can get you an open 15-footer, make it. We kept getting it, we couldn’t make it.”
And though it took longer than it should have against a team no one viewed as a threat, Michigan eventually found a groove and ended 2018 with a 74-52 win.
Late in the first half, after junior center Jon Teske picked up a foul and redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis committed a turnover, junior forward Isaiah Livers came in. At that point, the Wolverines — in the midst of their six-minute drought — hadn’t made a 2-pointer the entire game.
Livers changed that. After a Poole trey broke the drought, Livers dunked over a Binghamton player and drove to the basket for a layup.
And 12 minutes into the second half, with Michigan leading by just nine, Livers grabbed a rebound and drove down the court for a layup. Then, he hit a mid-range jumper. Then, he fired from beyond the arc.
Just like that, the Wolverines capped off an 11-0 run to extend their lead to 14. After that, the game was never close.
“Being the sixth man and coming off the bench, you get to watch the game for a second and see where … the open shots are,” Livers said. “So I just studied it, went the first half to the second half, and I came in the second half and told (Beilein) that I could knock that post shot down … and went in and knocked it down.”
The momentum carried over to the rest of the team. Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis — mostly absent in the first half — scored 14 points in the second half to finish as the team’s top scorer with 21. He, too, began finding his way to the basket more, and hit three 3-pointers to boot.
Poole, too, kept making it rain. He hit another three to score Michigan’s first points of the second half and added a sixth with 14:37 remaining in the half to finish with 18 points. All came from beyond the arc.
And by the end, the Wolverines had a 22-point win — a margin that appeared normal, even if the path they took there was anything but.
“Before the game, (Beilein) was stressing about confidence,” Livers said. “When you get out there and you have just these wide-open mid-range shots that we hit every day and they’re just not going in repeatedly, it just comes down to a confidence factor, so I think once the second half came, he just repeated himself in the first half and said just be confident. … Obviously some guys just weren’t able to hit that shot today but it’s cool, we know how to knock that shot down.”