Sometimes an early-season, tune-up game between a visiting mid-major and a Power Five program ends up being much closer than anyone predicted. This was not one of those games.
Right from the jump, the Michigan men’s basketball team (4-0) controlled an outmatched Houston Baptist (0-4) in dominant fashion, en route to a 111-68 victory.
Three-pointers by junior forward Isaiah Livers and junior guard Eli Brooks, a series of stout defensive possessions and a few threaded assists from senior point guard Zavier Simpson catapulted the Wolverines to a 12-4 advantage by the first media timeout.
The Huskies had no answer to Michigan’s ball-movement and struggled to get anything going on the other end, too.
In a sequence that epitomized those struggles, Houston Baptist guard Qon Murphy’s airball found the hands of Simpson, who dashed down the floor, occupied the Huskies’ lone defender and tossed it up to a streaking Livers for an alley-oop.
Already up 21-4, Michigan smelled blood in the water and didn’t let-up. The Wolverines’ shooters benefited from a litany of missed defensive assignments by the visitors, going 9-for-19 from beyond the arc. Livers led the way with three himself, but Simpson, alonside sophomore guards Adrien Nunez and David DeJulius, got in on the act too.
Michigan wasn’t only getting free looks from the perimeter, though. Down low, Houston Baptist didn’t fare any better. The Wolverines’ bigs — senior center Jon Teske and sophomore forward Colin Castleton specifically — were having their way.
“Colin did an excellent job of scoring points for us, but I was more impressed with his defense,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “He did an excellent job protecting the basket. Every time we got beat on the defensive end and he covered up for a lot of his teammates’ mistakes.
“His length, his activity as well as his rebounding were big for us.”
By the end of the half, Michigan had scored 24 points in the paint, turned the ball over just twice and shot 57 percent from the field, culminating in a 63-26 lead.
The beginning of the second half was a mirror image of the first. Simpson knocked down a corner three-pointer and Livers, without a Huskies’ defender within a 15-foot radius of him, rattled home another from deep to match. The pair combined for 46 points, going 17-for-20 from the field.
“I tell myself to just play the game of basketball,” Livers said. “Be simple. Knock open shots down, get to the free-throw line and drive to the basket. That’s how you make the game look easy. That’s what I try to do as much as possible.”
Midway through the final 20 and with the result no longer in doubt, Michigan coach Juwan Howard began emptying his bench. Castleton added to his first-half performance with pair of strong finishes in the paint, while freshman guard Cole Bajema scored five points in what was his first dose of significant minutes for the Wolverines.
“I think it’s really fun just to get all the guys involved,” Castleton said. “They worked all summer with us, they’re in here every day, blood, sweat and tears with us as well. They’re just waiting for an opportunity like tonight to show everybody how hard they’ve worked.”
The icing on the cake for Michigan came when DeJulius hit a pull-up jumper to bring the team’s point total over 100.
The Wolverines likely won’t have another offensive performance as efficient as this one, and practice squad players might not close out the final six minutes of another game this year. Simply put, Michigan won’t have an easier victory the rest of the season.
But, if anything, this tune-up game was exactly that. With a trip to the Bahamas and a matchup with Iowa State looming on Wednesday, a commanding win at Crisler is a nice send-off.
“It definitely boosts our confidence,” Bajema said. “Dropping 111 points on anybody isn’t an easy thing to do. Having that going into Atlantis is helpful.”