Do you remember the Michigan men’s basketball team from New York City? The one that entered Madison Square Garden and made it look like its home court?
And do you remember the Wolverines that traveled to Pauley Pavillion? The same ones who matched No. 8 UCLA shot for shot and – at least for a half – looked capable of outshooting the third-best scoring offense in the country?
Well, that Michigan team was back Thursday night, welcoming Indiana to Crisler Center only to send the Hoosiers home with a brutal 90-60 loss.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” said senior wing Zak Irvin. “I’ll see us do this in practice, and we show spurts of it at times in games as well. For us (to shoot) the ball that well, you know, I always see that happening. But for us to be able to sit down and check on the defensive end the way we did, that’s really something special.”
Something looked different about the Wolverines from the opening tip. Indiana (4-4 Big Ten, 14-7 overall) might have drawn first blood, as center Thomas Bryant got to the basket with ease, but after that, things got ugly for the Hoosiers.
Following Bryant’s basket, Michigan (4-4, 14-7) went to Moritz Wagner early and often, clearly trying to expose the void left in Indiana’s frontcourt by forward OG Anunoby’s season-ending knee injury. Wagner scored the first six points of the game to spark an 18-2 run in just over five minutes.
And with the run came the lead, and with the lead the déjà vu.
Like the Wolverines’ trip to the Garden in November, their offensive performance made it look like the hoop was a little bigger than usual.
Michigan ended the half shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and 7-for-11 from three, leading to a 50-35 advantage. It was the first time the Wolverines hit the 50-point halftime mark since the UCLA matchup.
By the end of it all, Michigan had posted 90 points and outscored the Hoosiers 40-25 in the second half. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with a game-high 21 points, but five other Wolverines scored in double digits.
More impressive than the incendiary offense, though, was the new energy Michigan seemed to find against the Hoosiers — the same energy that was there in New York City.
Take Wagner as only one example. With 14:05 left to play in the first half, the ball was deflected out of bounds and Wagner was clapping his hands together down the sideline with an intensity that this team has lacked for the majority of conference play. And that was when the ball went out in favor of Indiana.
That energy turned into an ability for Michigan to do the small, dirty things that it hasn’t done all season – sticking out its legs for deflections rather than letting a pass land safely in its target’s hands.
The enthusiasm transferred to the stands too. For the first time all year – as the Wolverines stretched their lead to as much as 19 in the first half and 30 in the second – Crisler Center was rocking, helping inject life into a team that had looked lifeless before its past two games.
“(It was) exciting to see a good crowd,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I think we’re running a record for 9 pm games, but it was still a good crowd. And to have our team play that way in front of them.
“I think we saw that a little bit at the beginning of the year, a long time ago — seems like years ago — in the SMU and Marquette games, which are turning out to be great wins now, where we get clicking offensively and it leads to better defense as well.”
Michigan’s defensive effort showed encouraging signs as well. While Indiana hurt itself at times, the Wolverines still scored 25 points off 16 turnovers.
In the first half, the Wolverines essentially scored themselves out of a troubling defensive effort, as the Hoosiers shot 60 and 62.5 percent from the field and from three, respectively. The second half, though, saw Indiana shoot 54.5 percent from the field and 53.8 from three, all while sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman held Hoosier guard James Blackmon Jr. to just four points on 2-for-3 shooting after he had a 33-point outburst against Michigan State in the Indiana’s previous matchup.
As the game drew to a close, there were points where Michigan fans even had the audacity to chant, “Hoosier Daddy.” In those moments, it seemed they knew this was the most complete game of the Wolverines’ season. In those moments, it felt a lot like New York again.