It took a while — and some would say it took a little too long — for the Michigan men’s basketball team to assert any kind of dominance against winless Jackson State. The Wolverines’ horrors of a near upset at the hands of Ohio, another mid-major, their last time out reverberated throughout much of the first half.  

But Michigan (5-1 overall) shook off its slow start against the Tigers (0-4), en route to a 78-68 victory Wednesday night.

“It’s early in the season,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I’m sure a lot of teams like us (are) not playing their best basketball, and we will get better and better, game by game.”

The Wolverines certainly weren’t playing their best basketball Wednesday, especially early. To start, they built a brick wall — just not a defensive one. Michigan attempted three-pointer after three-pointer from all over the arc. No matter the location, the Wolverines fully committed to shooting from range, and it was to no avail. They opened 1-for-6 from deep, with six of their first seven shots being threes. 

“Offensively, I know these guys are great shooters,” freshman wing Jett Howard affirmed after the game. “It’s not gonna fall every night. And you don’t wanna shoot our confidence down either, so you’re still gonna take the open shot.”

Whether open or contested, Michigan shot brick after brick early, while Jackson State played feisty. 

Literally from the opening tip, where a Tiger attempted to chase down the lost tip-off in the Wolverines’ backcourt, Jackson State was scrappy. Although it too opened up cold from the field, the Tigers stayed in it with high-intensity play, creating extra possessions while disrupting Michigan’s offense whenever it looked for baskets away from the three-point line. 

With timely buckets and a barrage of Wolverine misses, Jackson State kept Michigan on upset alert throughout the first 15 minutes. Whether it was an alley-oop dunk in transition by wing Trace Young or simply not backing down to taller defenders, the Tigers had Crisler Center on edge. 

No matter the opponent, no matter the records, keep a basketball game tight and it can go either way. So perhaps in the nick of time, Michigan took control. 

The Wolverines finally stung stops together, holding Jackson State scoreless for the final four minutes of the first half. On the other end of the floor, their offense finally found some rhythm. Early in that stretch, Jett was set to shoot free throws, but Juwan yelled at his five starters on the floor — including Jett — to come talk to him first. Michigan was hot thereafter, ending the half on a 9-0 run capped by a difficult step-back three in the corner by Jett to go up 37-27 and establish a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.  

Graduate guard Jaelin Llewellyn said that Juwan’s message in that on-court meeting centered around playing harder, especially on defense. Jett, sitting beside Llewellyn postgame, offered more nuance. 

“(Llewellyn) just translated the clean part,” Jett said with a smile. “I (won’t) say exactly what (Juwan) said.”

Whatever Juwan’s message was, it was received at an opportune time. The Wolverines remained comfortable in the driver’s seat as the game continued, ensuring they fully shook-off their slow start. Tigers’ passes that were crisp early were getting intercepted or sailing out of bounds as the half continued. 

Meanwhile, Michigan three-pointers began to fall with some consistency. Back to back threes from graduate guard Joey Baker — immediately followed by a three from Jett that had him high-fiving Juwan in celebration on his way down the court — highlighted the Wolverines’ 50% shooting from deep in the second half that kept Jackson State out of reach. 

And all of a sudden, the once upset-minded Tigers looked unrecognizable from their former selves — and the same was true for once-hobbling Michigan as it looked more collected.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to get in rhythm, on the offensive end and the defensive end,” Jett said. “Hopefully we’re better by January, but we’re working hard.”

January may seem a ways away, but winter is coming — and the Wolverines’ schedule is quickly strengthening. 

For Michigan to find any long-term success, it’ll have to avoid the type of slow starts that it shrugged off to get the job done against a sub-par team.