UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Even when Michigan didn’t score for five straight minutes, when George Washington went on a 14-2 run and whittled the Wolverines’ lead to six, the outcome was never in doubt.
Though the No. 18 Michigan men’s basketball team (4-0 overall) fought through a period of sloppy play, it was ultimately too much for the Colonials (0-4) in its 84-61 win in the first round of the Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament.
For the first 10 minutes of the first half, the Wolverines imposed their will on George Washington. Ten seconds in, sophomore guard Jordan Poole made a jumper from the foul line for the first points of the game. That set the tone, as Poole, redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers all made 3-pointers in a span of three minutes. When junior guard Zavier Simpson grabbed a rebound, drove down the court on a fast break and laid it up himself to cap off an 8-0 run that put Michigan up 28-10, it seemed like the Wolverines’ early-season scoring woes were a thing of the past.
However, for the rest of the half, Michigan scored just seven points and committed five turnovers. The defense that had previously been so stifling allowed the Colonials several open layups.
“They weren’t running anything,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “ … We weren’t looking for each other the way we need to look for each other, and there was not much of a strong message out there of what we were actually running.”
But Poole grabbed back some momentum at the end of the half with two free throws, a fast-break layup and an and-one to give the Wolverines a 35-26 advantage at halftime.
And when Matthews made a 3-pointer 20 seconds into the second half and Simpson followed it up with treys on back-to-back possessions — after making only one in the first three games — to extend Michigan’s lead to 20, it was clear George Washington just couldn’t compete.
“At the end of the day, I just told myself to keep shooting,” Simpson said. “I put in a lot of shots in the preseason, and my shots in the first half kind of felt good, so when Coach told me to keep shooting … I said I would.”
From there, the Wolverines made it look easy. Michigan extended a possession with two offensive boards to allow Poole to hit his first of three consecutive treys. The tandem of Poole and Matthews combined for 47 points — with Poole’s 22 points a career high.
“It was only a matter of time before shots started falling,” Matthews said.
When Simpson hit his fourth shot of the game from beyond the arc and two consecutive defensive rebounds led to an easy layup from sophomore guard Eli Brooks and a dunk from Livers to put the Wolverines up 78-41 with 7:36 remaining, it only added insult to injury. The reserves came in, and Michigan cruised.
By that point, it was hard to believe that just 15 minutes before, George Washington’s deficit had been merely six.