With six minutes to go until tip-off, the Maize Rage section was bordering on just roughly 60 people. It was a far cry from the Crisler Center environment that has earned the student section its trademark moniker.
The fans started filing in eventually, though, but it didn’t seem like there would be much for them to get excited about. After all, a mid-December matchup with Maryland Eastern Shore (1-10) isn’t exactly a hot ticket. It was meant to be a blowout from the start.
That’s exactly what it was, but it was far more entertaining than it was meant to be, as the Michigan men’s basketball team (9-3) dunked and dominated its way to a 98-49 victory against the Hawks.
The win marked the third-straight game in which the Wolverines have scored over 80 points, and that offensive efficiency was on full display early in Saturday’s game.
The Wolverines entered the break with a 27-point lead over Maryland Eastern Shore, and it only got worse for the Hawks from there.
Michigan asserted its will from the opening tip. Senior wing Zak Irvin converted from beyond the arc to open the scoring, and the Wolverines only heated up from there — starting a perfect 7-for-7 from the field.
The Wolverines’ first miss from the field came at the 14:07 mark, but by that point, they had already notched a 19-2 run to blow the game wide open.
Michigan’s first half could have been a highlight reel in its entirety, as it finished 8-for-15 from 3-point range and shot 63 percent from the field.
But with 15:36 left in the stanza, sophomore forward DJ Wilson made one play stand out above the rest. A long rebound fell into the hands of Derrick Walton Jr., and the senior guard took off in transition, dribbling to the elbow and dishing the ball to Wilson on the two-on-one. Wilson elevated over Bakari Copeland and posterized the Hawks’ big man to give the Wolverines a 15-2 lead.
“Yeah it felt good,” Wilson said. “Like I said before, the first one — I didn’t think it went in when I fell and hit the ground, until I heard everybody and Derrick came up in my face hollering and stuff like that. That’s when I really realized that I made it.”
The transition slam was representative of Michigan’s approach throughout the matchup. Redshirt junior guard Duncan Robinson indicated that transition offense would be a point of emphasis against the Hawks on Friday, and it sure looked like it was.
The Wolverines pushed the tempo after every rebound or turnover, and there were a lot of them. By the end of the game, they had posted 20 fast-break points and 17 points off 15 forced turnovers.
“(Michigan coach John Beilein has) been telling us to focus on that against everybody,” said junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “We don’t get as many transition baskets as we did before and he wants us to play defense, get stops and get out in transition. … They tried to get to the basket (but) we’re in the gaps and get steals and stuff, and we get out in transition.”
The second half turned out to be more of the same, as Michigan put forth another 49-point offensive outburst on 68-percent shooting from the floor to seal its victory. And at times, it looked like a one-sided dunk contest between Wilson and sophomore forward Moritz Wagner.
Lost among the rim-rocking dunks, though, was the Wolverines’ performance on the other end of the floor. With the way its offense was flowing Saturday, Michigan may have gotten away with a lackluster effort on the defensive end. Instead, it held the Hawks to 33-percent shooting from the field and just 10 points through the first 10 minutes of the game.
By the end of it all, four Wolverines finished in double figures, led by Walton, who posted 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Abdur-Rahkman, in his own right, notched 10 assists and came just three points shy of a double-double.
“You guys wouldn’t do this stat, but (Abdur-Rahkman) had an assist every 36 minutes as a freshman, and he played a lot of minutes,” Beilein said. “It wasn’t that he was selfish, he just didn’t see the floor like we’ve been trying to develop him to see the floor. So with the 10 assists right now, that gives him 30 on the year.
“… That’s a huge step from going from 20 assists in major minutes to 90 assists. That really helps us see what we can do as a team.”
And Robinson may have enjoyed the offensive clinic more than anyone, finishing the game with a season-high 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting in 21 minutes on the court.
The blowout also gave Michigan coach John Beilein a chance to give his freshman class valuable in-game experience before Big Ten play begins. Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson and Jon Teske logged 15, 11 and eight minutes, respectively.
The result was to be expected, especially given that the Hawks played a similar defense to that of Central Arkansas — which the Wolverines rolled, 97-53, just four days prior.
The fans came for just another December blowout against an inferior team, but the victory against Maryland Eastern Shore gave the Michigan faithful just a little more than the standard lopsided victory.
With lockdown defense, shots from deep and dunks in transition on full display, Michigan seemed to make the trip to Crisler Center worth it regardless of the opponent.