There’s no one way to miss a 3-pointer.
Some hung in the air a second, looking destined for the net, before clanging off. Some were never close, grazing the hoop just enough to avoid an air ball. Some rolled around the rim, teasing Michigan, then rolled back out.
For the first few minutes of Saturday’s game against Air Force (4-7 overall), the misses piled up. The Wolverines (12-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) found good looks against the Falcons’ zone, but good looks don’t always equal good shots.
But by the end of the game, Michigan got its offense clicking just enough, as four players scored in the double digits en route to a 71-50 win.
On its first possession, Air Force attempted a backdoor bounce pass — that went right to junior guard Zavier Simpson. It became a theme as the Falcons struggled to hold onto the ball all game and led the Wolverines to 17 points off turnovers.
“A lot of that was Michigan,” said Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich. “Their size and their length, their speed. Some of them were unforced on our part — a minimal amount — but we can’t live on a live ball to anybody.”
Seven minutes in, Simpson stole yet another bad pass and tossed the ball to sophomore guard Eli Brooks, who drove to the basket for a layup. That was the first of four consecutive turnovers for Air Force — a sequence that sparked Michigan in the paint. Two of those possessions led to a quick four points for the Wolverines on a layup by sophomore guard Jordan Poole and a lob from Brooks to junior center Jon Teske.
But the Falcons weren’t the only team turning the ball over. Michigan had eight turnovers of its own in the first half that provided Air Force with 10 of its 21 points and kept the game closer than it should have been.
“(Michigan coach John Beilein) yelled at us (at halftime),” said redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews. “ ‘Stop turning the ball over!’ ”
Sure enough, in the second half the Wolverines committed just three turnovers to Air Force’s nine — none more thunderous than when freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis stole the ball from a Falcons player who fell as he tried to fight for possession, leaving Brazdeikis an empty backcourt for an easy dunk.
And though Michigan couldn’t quite shake the ugliness — Poole and Simpson both found themselves in foul trouble down the stretch as the Wolverines committed three fouls on one possession — the game was firmly in its control after that. Brazdeikis finished with 19 points, followed by Matthews with 17 and Poole and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers with 11.
After shooting just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Wolverines increased that to 10-for-32 by the end of the game. Breakdowns in the Falcons’ zone defense led to a few open 3-pointers from Poole, Livers and Matthews.
This time, for the most part, the shots fell.
“Offensively what I liked the best was, we started out 1-for-8 from three, they came out in a bit of a matchup zone,” Beilein said. “ … Missed some, we didn’t go into a shell and say, ‘I can’t shoot.’ We stepped up and made some really big shots after that.”