Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein often hangs his hat on his team’s defense.
Even in a week when two of his players recorded the fourth and fifth triple-doubles in Michigan history, Beilein was proudest of the fact that the Wolverines reduced their opposing field-goal percentage just below his target of 40 percent.
So naturally, Beilein wasn’t happy Wednesday when the Wolverines allowed Bryant — a team shooting just 39 percent for the season, good for 326th in the country — to make 59 percent of its shots in the first half.
Luckily for Michigan, its offense showed up in style. Senior guard Caris LeVert led the way with 19 points, junior forward Zak Irvin added a season-high 16, and the Wolverines made a school-record 17 3-pointers to easily vanquish the Bulldogs, 96-60, in their final non-conference matchup of the season.
“If we don’t shoot the ball the way we do, that’s a close game,” Beilein said. “I’m not happy with the defense today, not giving up that percentage. But at the same time, you look at their numbers — (the Bulldogs) were (on pace for) a 100-point game after those first few minutes. They only missed three shots. All of a sudden, they were on a 60-point game — so we got better as we went on.”
Michigan (10-3) was able to cut down Bryant’s shooting percentage to 49 percent with a renewed defensive effort in the second half, but even when the two teams traded baskets early on, the chance of an upset never really materialized.
The Wolverines were able to keep the Bulldogs (2-10) at bay thanks to a 3-point barrage led by redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson, who made 4 triples in the first half. In one memorable stretch late in the half, Michigan went a full five minutes without attempting a 2-pointer and still managed to go on a 14-5 run in which four different Wolverines made 3-pointers.
“We’re going to take what the offense is gonna give us,” Beilein said. “I was very concerned about our offense, but at halftime (we had) 57 points. … I do like the way that we can spread the floor. I think we saw last year, when we weren’t shooting that well, the court got very small, and it was very hard to score.”
Michigan finished the first half shooting 12-for-20 from beyond the arc in the first half, and it never relinquished the lead after the Bulldogs cooled off in the second frame.
The Wolverines’ shooting cooled off as well, but sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark off the bench by scoring all 10 of his points in the second half to help the offense hold on for the easy victory.
To cap it off, Michigan only broke the 3-point record thanks to a humorous sequence in the closing seconds of the game in which the Wolverines kept passing the ball around, none of them wanting to be the one to record a turnover as they ran the shot clock down to zero. The ball ended up in the hands of sophomore forward Kam Chatman, who launched up a corner 3 with one second on the shot clock. The ball dropped in with 0.4 seconds remaining in the game, and Michigan broke the record.
“He didn’t get the message that I was saying, ‘Just take the turnover, we’re not rubbing it in,’ ” Beilein said. “ I thought it was funny, they were all trying to avoid the turnover. You know, it proves how much I hate turnovers.”
After losing two non-conference matchups to low-tier opponents in December last year, the Wolverines avoided the same fate this season, sweeping their stretch of four straight “guarantee” games at Crisler Center. Michigan will open Big Ten play at Illinois next Wednesday.