NEW YORK CITY — The buzzer sounded, the celebration was modest and the theatrics were few.
Sure, the Wolverines got to stand behind a banner that dubbed them the champions of the 2K Classic at the center of Madison Square Garden. And yes, senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. got to hold his team’s new trophy as pictures were taken to commemorate the moment.
There was no confetti. There weren’t fans storming the court. This wasn’t one shining moment — and we still don’t know if Michigan will even come close to having one.
In fact, there are a lot of things we still don’t know about the Wolverines.
Are they going to live and die by the 3? Is this new defense under assistant coach Billy Donlon sustainable? When are the freshmen going to make the impact Michigan coach John Beilein is expecting? Can they really stay healthy for a whole season?
Still, for 40 minutes Friday night, in the mecca of basketball, Michigan threw those doubts out the window. For 40 minutes, it imposed its will against Southern Methodist to the tune of a 22-point victory. And that’s a damn good start.
The Wolverines entered Friday night having played their best half of the season against Marquette, eventually beating the Golden Eagles by 18.
But the Mustangs were a whole different monster. It seemed no half of basketball could have been good enough for Michigan to forget recent history.
In 2014, SMU went onto the Wolverines’ home floor, poured on 17 unanswered points in the last 10 minutes and walked away from Crisler Center with a 62-51 victory.
And last season, the Mustangs didn’t just beat Michigan. They flat-out embarrassed the Wolverines.
Michigan traveled to Dallas, only to get outrebounded by 25, lose by 24 and let SMU turn the game into a one-sided dunk contest.
But this Friday night, for the first time in a long time, it felt like the Wolverines had their swagger back.
This Friday night, redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson wasn’t just dunking. He was rocking the rim and then strutting the baseline as if to tell the fans he’d be doing it all night.
This Friday night, Walton wasn’t just scoring. He was shoving a dagger into the Mustangs, then twisting it for good measure — finishing with 23 points on 7-for-12 shooting from behind the arc.
This Friday night, the college 3-point line wasn’t quite difficult enough, as the Wolverines pulled up from NBA range time and time again.
And when they made it, they let SMU know.
With under a minute left to play in the first half, junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman connected from deep. Then he let his hand stay in the air for just a few seconds extra.
This Friday night, the new defense wasn’t just a philosophy talked about in a press conference. Michigan held a team that was averaging 80 points to just 54 and forced 12 turnovers.
This Friday night, they boarded a plane with a trophy in tow.
There’s no telling if this is the preview of things to come. Entering the season, there was a sentiment that the Wolverines had the pieces for success in place. But those also came with the same doubts that will still exist tomorrow.
Yet this Friday night, Michigan put its pieces together. It did so against a team that has owned the matchup the past two years. And it happened in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Doubts or not, that’s a hell of a start.