The halftime entertainment at Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon featured “Tommy LaSwordfish” twerking in front of University booster Al Glick, “Kevin Duranteater” rolling around on the court to the sounds of Limp Bizkit and, of course, “Mackerel Jordan” swallowing a man whole and spitting him out wearing only his boxers.
And though the antics of the giant sports-themed inflatable animals known as the “ZOOperstars” may have stolen the show during Michigan’s game against Delaware State, the Wolverines’ thorough demolition of the Hornets proved to be just as flashy — and at times, just as bizarre.
It was a contest that featured Delaware State clanking 17 3-point attempts off the rim, Michigan chasing a slow-rolling loose ball three-quarters of the length of the court and sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman appearing to square-dance in a 10-foot circle with a defender who hooked his arm while dribbling.
But with the lowly Hornets (0-9) unable to get anything going offensively or defensively, the Wolverines had no issues finding shots all afternoon. Just five days after being manhandled in the low post by Southern Methodist, Michigan outscored Delaware State 36-10 in the paint (20-0 in the first half), made 11 3-pointers, converted seven dunks and had six players reach double-digit scoring in the 80-33 rout.
“(I liked) the growth we made in those couple of days (after) a performance that we did not like at all,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We were really solid with our defense. Our offense, the ball didn’t stick nearly as much — we had 23 assists. We hate to lose, but the only good is that it really makes us better in some other areas.”
The Wolverines (7-3) led from wire to wire, starting the game off with a 3-pointer from redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson — who made his first start of the season — and beginning a 24-8 opening run.
As usual, senior guard Caris LeVert led the charge for Michigan, scoring a team-high 15 points while working as the lead guard for the third straight game in the absence of injured junior guard Derrick Walton Jr.
Junior forward Zak Irvin, whose game has steadily improved over the last few games as he continues to recover from back surgery, had one of his best showings of the year. After tallying nine points and nine assists at SMU, Irvin posted 12 points to go along with eight rebounds. He also showed off his dribble-drive talents, finding open lanes on two straight first-half possessions and finishing with one-handed jams.
Thanks to a putrid 24-percent shooting performance for the game, the Hornets were never able to recover. Completely locked out of the paint, they resorted to launching 21 3-pointers, just four of which dropped through the net. The Wolverines also controlled the rebounding battle, 41-29.
Even against vastly inferior competition, Michigan came in knowing it would have to work on its defense and rebounding, especially with the Big Ten season looming.
“Those are the two main things,” LeVert said. “I think today we did a great job of that — we limited their offensive rebounds, and we played great defense at times. We have to keep our focus up, because we know the level of competitiveness will rise as soon as the Big Ten season starts.”
The usual suspects did most of the damage for the Wolverines, but several role players turned in solid performances as well.
Sophomore forward Kam Chatman was feeling it from the moment he checked into the game midway through the first half, picking up five points, two assists, two rebounds and a block in his first three minutes on the floor.
And junior guard Andrew Dakich, who burned his redshirt for the second straight season after senior guard Spike Albrecht announced his retirement yesterday, set new career highs with four points, three assists and two rebounds in his first game of the season.
Though Beilein admits “outsiders” might look poorly upon Michigan’s weak non-conference stretch, he explained that playing opponents like Delaware State is important to get those role players a chance to see where they stand, even if the game isn’t pretty.
“There are some games where we can just get guys out there and get them minutes when the lights are really on,” Beilein said. “That was huge today.”