By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 12, 2013
Exactly one year before Michigan’s game against South Carolina State on Tuesday night, the team beat IUPUI at Crisler Center. Sophomore guard Caris LeVert didn’t see the floor that night — he was a redshirt candidate and wouldn’t get his first taste of playing time until Dec. 1.
One year later, as the Wolverines cruised past the Bulldogs, it was clear what a difference a year has made for LeVert.
Michigan (2-0) looked sluggish in the first half of its first regular-season game on Friday, scoring just 23 points against UMass Lowell. But Tuesday, the team came out of the gate quicker and, with the help of sharp shooting from LeVert, rolled to a 93-59 win.
“We just came out with more energy,” LeVert said. “We got some stops early that led to fast-break buckets, and I think that was the difference.”
On Michigan’s second possession of the game, freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. drove to his right and finished a tough layup after being fouled. He got up and knocked down the free throw to complete the and-one play, setting the tone for Michigan in the first half.
The team shot 20-for-30 from the field and knocked down 12 3-pointers in the first half. Early in the game, freshman guard Zak Irvin had two open looks from behind the arc but missed both times. On the possession following his second miss, Irvin had another open look for three but instead penetrated toward the basket and threw a crisp pass to LeVert in the corner. LeVert squared his shoulders, released the ball and drained the 3-pointer — the first of five he’d hit in as many minutes.
Following the 3-pointer, Michigan’s game plan was simple: get the ball to LeVert behind the arc and then hustle back on defense. Walton assisted on LeVert’s second 3-pointer and sophomore guard Nik Stauskas set up LeVert for his next two triples. On Stauskas’s second assist, he fed a pass to LeVert in the corner and turned to go back on defense before the ball fell through the net.
It was that kind of night for the Pickerington, Ohio native. If the ball came out of LeVert’s hands, there was a good chance it was going into the basket — 64 percent. He finished the night 7-of-11 from the field for a career-high 24 points. He also added four assists and three rebounds.
“He is a nightmare on a closeout,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Somebody has got to go get to him. He can shoot it or go by you, and his seeing the floor is huge for us.”
When LeVert came out, Stauskas stepped up and took over the 3-point-shooting party with five of his own from behind the arc and finished the night with 23 points. The Wolverines finished the half with 12 3-pointers and headed to the locker room leading 59-23.
Michigan didn’t slow down in the second half despite the Bulldogs mixing up their defense, switching from a zone to trapping and pressing the Wolverine offense.
Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III threw down a dunk 14 seconds into the half, and Beilein didn’t show any signs of letting up until two minutes remained, when he sent in the freshmen to finish up the lopsided win.
It’s early in the season, but so far it’s clear that LeVert is Michigan’s most improved player, and his ability to step up will play a big part in the Wolverines’ fate this year.
“This is a great start for him,” Beilein said. “Who are you going to take out in that lineup right now so that somebody else can play? … We can tweak some things some more, but at the same time, LeVert has got to be out there on the floor.”
NOTE: Robinson, redshirt junior Jon Horford and fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan were named captains. It’s the ninth time in program history the Wolverines have had three or more captains. Robinson is just the fourth sophomore to be named a captain.