No matter how intricate a team’s offense may be — and John Beilein’s scheme is certainly among the most complex — the system can only work if players are making shots.
So when No. 25 Michigan shot just 19.2 percent from the field against South Carolina on Wednesday, including a dismal 7.7 percent from behind the arc, the offense could only be described as sluggish.
That certainly wasn’t the case early Saturday night, when the Wolverines returned to Crisler Center to beat Mount St. Mary’s, 64-47.
Michigan (5-1) got off to a blistering start — shooting 7-15 on 3-pointers and 43.3 percent on all field goals — to stake themselves with a comfortable lead after a slow defensive start.
“It was huge,” said senior guard Zak Irvin. “After how poorly we shot the ball in South Carolina, we definitely wanted to come out and set the tone. Big bounce-back game for us, so it was nice to see the first three of my shots go in. It was a good feeling.”
The Mountaineers, led by nine early points from 5-foot-5 guard Junior Robinson, took an early 12-8 lead in the first half.
But then junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman knocked down a 3-pointer, senior forward Duncan Robinson hit a midrange jumper and senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. drained another 3 to give Michigan a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the night.
The Wolverines ended the first half on a 25-4 run that was capped off by a personal seven-point spurt from Moritz Wagner, during which the sophomore forward’s offensive arsenal was on full display. Wagner drained 3-pointers with ease and took defenders off the dribble, creating hesitation with an array of pump-fakes and jab steps.
After the Mountaineers opened up the second half with a quick 6-2 run to cut Michigan’s lead to 12, the Wolverines responded in kind off the strength of three more 3-pointers from Robinson and redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson.
The improved shooting was even more impressive considering Mount St. Mary’s entered the game allowing its opponents to make just 29.9 of their long-range attempts.
While Michigan shot well throughout the game, finishing with a 43.6 field-goal percentage and a 40.7 3-point percentage, the Wolverines struggled with turnovers. A sloppy few minutes toward the end of the game saw Mount St. Mary’s cut Michigan’s lead to just eight, bringing the Mountaineer bench to life.
But Irvin, who finished with 14 points, stemmed the tide with a mid-range jumper from the elbow that seemed to snap his team out of its funk, and Michigan finished the game on an 11-2 run.
“(Mount St. Mary’s) fought hard,” Irvin said. “They cut it back to, I think it was eight points, with four or five minutes to go, so for us to end it on an 11-2 run is huge. We always talk about finishing strong, and I was glad to play a part in that.”
Added Beilein: “We have a big game with Virginia Tech on Wednesday. We get a day to rest. For us to travel to South Carolina … (we) learned some valuable lessons from that game. And then to have this challenge right now, it was a bigger challenge than anyone would think, so we’ll take the ‘W.’ ”