With just over eight minutes left in the game, Jalen Reynolds stood on the Crisler Center steps, surrounded by Michigan fans, and flexed his muscles.
Reynolds had just fouled sophomore forward Aubrey Dawkins, who continued on to make both free throws, but the Xavier big man didn’t care. The Musketeers outmuscled the Wolverines in an 86-70 victory that included 48 fouls, with 11 of them going against Michigan big men.
The Musketeers grabbed 18 offensive rebounds over the course of the game, scoring 16 second-chance points off of them, and consistently grabbed the ball out of the reach of the Wolverines’ centers. Michigan coach John Beilein has wanted to slim down his 12-man roster, but he wasn’t able to Friday. Beilein has been rotating four men in at the big man spot, but that decision didn’t become any clearer after 40 minutes against Xavier.
“We got into early foul trouble, so I’m sure it was tough for (the big men) to get a rhythm,” said senior forward Caris LeVert. “Mark (Donnal), I think, had three in the first half, so that was tough, definitely. I think Moe (Wagner) gave us some great minutes when he was called upon, so we’ve just gotta keep growing at that position.”
Junior forward Mark Donnal started, as he did the first two games of the season, but was yanked after the first minute and a half after losing the tip to Reynolds and allowing him to drive to the basket, fouling Reynolds on the way there.
“Mark certainly didn’t have a good day today,” Beilein said. “He appeared to be a bit overmatched.
“We’re trying not to foul, but that’s hard for us to do with that quickness. (Xavier) just came right at us.”
Beilein threw in sophomore forward Ricky Doyle after Donnal’s woes, but that didn’t help matters much. Doyle was too slow on the inside and couldn’t compete with Reynolds or Xavier forward James Farr, who totaled 13 rebounds.
Six minutes after Doyle entered the game, LeVert dished the ball to him for an and-1. But Doyle missed the free throw.
Seconds later, he fouled guard Remy Abell and caused an and-1 on the other side, but this time, Abell made the free throw.
Little things like missed free throws add up, and entering halftime, Xavier led Michigan, 45-36. Though the Musketeers and Wolverines made the same number of field goals, Xavier outscored Michigan at the free throw line by nine points. The effects were visible on the halftime score.
“It was frustrating,” LeVert said. “We had a lot of ticky-tack fouls defensively that really killed us, and they shot the lights out at the free-throw line. The 50-50 balls at the end killed us.”
In the first half, Xavier had more made free throws, rebounds and assists and had fewer turnovers and fouls than Michigan. The Wolverines forgot the fundamentals.
Forwards Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson entered the game late in the first half to relieve Doyle and Duncan, but struggled to stay on the court and make and impact. Wagner and Wilson played seven and five minutes, respectively, but hardly made a dent on the box score.
After Donnal collected three fouls in the first half, Doyle started the second. On the first play, he drove to the hoop for a layup, and hope returned to Michigan fans.
That dream was shattered after Xavier maintained its lead for the rest of the half. Though the Wolverines got close to closing the gap in the beginning, the Musketeers pulled away in the last 10 minutes, going on a 14-3 run to seal the deal.
“It was tough,” LeVert said. “Guys were knocking down shots, like we expected. But at the end of the day, we had 70 points — that’s enough to win a basketball game. We’ve gotta be better on the defensive end.”