The Michigan men’s basketball team was just eight minutes into its first real non-conference challenge of the season, but Caris LeVert was fired up.
The senior guard got in Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds’ face after a hard foul sent LeVert crashing into the base of the basket. The boos rained down at Crisler Center before the under-12 media timeout halted the confrontation.
Reynolds and the rest of Xavier’s frontcourt certainly didn’t come to Ann Arbor to make any friends, and the end result was an immensely physical game featuring 48 total fouls and 52 free throws. Despite LeVert’s spirited 29-point performance, the Musketeers’ physicality proved too much for the Wolverines to handle.
Even with Reynolds in foul trouble for most of the second half, Xavier capitalized on its bevy of second chances — 18 offensive rebounds — and beat the Wolverines, 86-70.
“(The Musketeers) hit the backboards obviously much better than us, they got loose balls, they have tremendous grit,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “They’ve got a great mix of guys who can shoot the ball with the big men. … They’ve got a really experienced team that knows how to win.”
After Xavier took over the game with an 8-0 run late in the first half, Michigan found itself in a nine-point hole after the first frame. Then, an offensive surge led by redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson, who made his first two 3-pointers off the bench in the second half, cut the lead to just two.
But the Musketeers answered with a triple of their own, and then another after LeVert connected from beyond the arc on the next possession.
From there, Xavier’s physicality took over. After LeVert’s 3, the Musketeers outscored the Wolverines 25-11 the rest of the way, mostly due to their continued ability to get to the free throw line against Michigan’s overwhelmed defenders.
“We’ve got to get stops,” Beilein said. “We can dial up (the offense) all we want. It’s not about the offensive end. … We cannot give up that many points, that kind of percentage, off of that many foul shots.”
Xavier made runs in the first half, too, scoring the game’s first seven points. But the Wolverines battled back on the strength of LeVert’s offensive versatility. The captain scored Michigan’s first points of the game with a contested layup, peppered the Musketeers with several mid-range jumpers and took his game beyond the arc with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Wolverines ahead 26-24 with 6:39 remaining in the first half.
LeVert finished the day with 29 points, three assists and seven rebounds, but he alone wasn’t able to stop Xavier’s frequent scoring runs.
Plenty of Michigan’s shots just missed the mark when the Wolverines needed to fight back in the game. Both junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins completely missed the rim on 3-point attempts, and Dawkins missed an open layup on a fast break early in the second half.
“We’ve just got to keep developing as a team,” LeVert said. “When we get layups, we’ve got to make them. We’ve got to knock down our free throws. We’ve got to hit open shots. … But we had 70 points — that’s enough to win a basketball game. We’ve got to hang our hats on defense.”
Neither team had a much better shooting day than the other — Xavier shot 41 percent to Michigan’s 40 — but the difference appeared in the rebounding battle. The Musketeers completely dominated the Wolverines at the glass, 47 rebounds to 29.
“We’ve gotta be tougher,” LeVert said. “That’s the main thing. It’s the 50-50 ball. There’s no skill involved in that — we’ve just gotta go get the basketball.”