The Michigan men’s basketball team came out of the tunnel Saturday night exuding confidence. It showed in their faces, in their play and in the final box score.
In the first half alone, the Wolverines (7-4 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) put up 49 points on their way to an 87-50 rout of Southern Utah (7-4). The victory marked an all-important bounce back from their loss at home to Minnesota just a week prior.
“(This week) everyone was eyes open, ears perking, was ready for, ‘Hey, let’s fix it. Whatever we need to do get back to the habits that we’ve been working on,’ ” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Because no one felt good after Saturday.”
Michigan started the game uncharacteristically: it played efficiently. Though the offense wasn’t without its occasional messy sets and flawed possessions that have plagued it all season — giving up seven turnovers in the first half — the turnovers weren’t as egregious as they’ve been in the past. And the Wolverines managed to shoot well above their typical mark, ending the half shooting 63.6% from the field and 41.7% from beyond the arc.
Just as important a contributor to the success, though, was how the offense was being run. It was flowing through the player that was expected to command the offense come the start of the season, graduate transfer DeVante’ Jones.
It was a rare time the offense has demonstrated any type of fluidity with Jones running point, and it stemmed from both his ability to dish the ball and make shots. He ended the first half a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, tallying 13 points and three assists.
“Throughout this whole week, I’ve just been practicing,” Jones said. “Getting a lot of shots up, especially ball-screen shots like I was doing today. So it’s all about me just keep shooting with confidence.”
It wasn’t just Jones who shined, with sophomore center Hunter Dickinson catching fire in the latter 10 minutes of the first half, shattering the Thunderbirds’ defense with dunks, post moves and put-backs galore.
Dickinson’s and the Wolverines’ tenacity carried over through halftime, lambasting Southern Utah’s defense with their sheer advantage in size and athletic capability.
The stark contrast was highlighted through both system scoring and flashy plays that demonstrated what Michigan has the potential to be. One such instance came when freshman guard Frankie Collins lobbed a ball up from behind the arc that found freshman big man Moussa Diabate for an alley-oop fit for a poster on a bedroom wall — Diabate’s third play worthy of the designation on the day.
“I’ve been waiting for that,” Collins said, grinning ear to ear. “I’ve been waiting for that play for a while. … But when I just threw it, I knew he was gonna go get it — it’s Moussa, come on now. You know Moussa, he’s going to go get anything he can.”
From there, the Wolverines just kept rolling. Even the substitutes coming off the bench seemed invigorated, hustling to every ball and playing through each possession like the game was neck and neck. Their effort contributed to the final burial of the Thunderbirds, securing the 37-point victory margin.
Perhaps Michigan’s offense looked good simply because Southern Utah is a less-talented team — after all, Kenpom has the Thunderbirds more than 100 spots lower than the Wolverines. But in a season it doesn’t matter much if that’s the reason its offense ran smoothly, especially in a season where Michigan hasn’t always put inferior opponents away.
What matters is that it did.