DETROIT — Shutting down forward Emoni Bates was never in the cards for the No. 22 Michigan men’s basketball team. The 2020 Gatorade National Player of the Year is simply too skilled and too talented — relying on completely erasing his impact from a game is unwise. 

The Wolverines knew that. Entering their matchup with Eastern Michigan, their game plan for Bates was strategic: Instead of trying to take him out of the game, just disrupt him as much as possible. 

“(With a) great scorer like Emoni, you just try your best to try to make him work hard for every bucket,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said on Nov. 10, leading up to the matchup with the Eagles. “ … He’s gonna touch the ball every time down the floor. … So you just gotta make him work for every chance he gets.”

And while Bates made scoring look effortless at times, Michigan stuck to its game plan. The Wolverines forced Bates to earn his shots, often scoring off dribble moves and with a defender draped over him en route to a commanding 30 points off 12-of-19 shooting from the field. 

So while Michigan failed to shut Bates down — and often even struggled to make his life difficult — it did just enough to keep him from completely taking over. It did just enough to survive. 

“(Bates) is a great player, he showed that out there today,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “We knew that we were gonna have to throw multiple bodies on him, and I think everybody did their part. Obviously he’s a great player so he’s gonna score some points, but I think we did a really good job collectively of trying to limit him.”

Limiting Bates was key. Not stopping him — that’s basically impossible — but instead slowing him down at key points to swing the game in the Wolverines’ favor. 

Just as he was baiting a monumental early-season upset for Eastern Michigan with the Eagles holding a three-point lead with nine minutes to go, Michigan managed to batten down the hatches. Aside from a 3-pointer with nine seconds left after the largely tight game had finally been decided, the Wolverines held Bates without a field goal for the final nine minutes of play to eventually pull away down the stretch.

Those final nine minutes were a feat. Despite everything Michigan threw at him, Bates was unaffected for much of the contest. The raw talent he’s shown throughout his development was at the forefront early and often, but the Wolverines controlled the damage late. They couldn’t stop his fire from burning, but they kept it from spreading into the latest stages of the game. 

“Some of the shots he made, I wasn’t surprised because I’ve seen him make a lot of tough shots, watching him in high school, watching him in AAU level and now,” Howard said. “ … (He’s a) great kid, special player.”

After Bates cooked Michigan’s defenders for most of the game — stirring the crowd with deep threes and even directing a shimmy-like dance at junior forward Terrance Williams II after dunking over him — the Wolverines managed to stay disciplined by managing Bates’ prowess. 

As Michigan separated itself in the final four minutes, Williams locked down Bates along the perimeter, forcing a crucial miss from deep. The Wolverines’ active help defense also got the ball out of Bates’s hands more often in the final stretch. It ensured Michigan’s survival even as Bates lit up the stat sheet. 

“I think most people have an idea of what (Bates) likes to do,” Eastern Michigan coach Stan Heath said. “ … (Michigan) had a game plan, and he had 30.” 

Indeed, the Wolverines knew what was coming, and quite frankly, they couldn’t stop it. Bates put on a show. But Michigan did just enough. It got key stops on Bates when it needed to, and the Wolverines weathered Bates’ storm.