By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 28, 2013
Only one day before playing Holy Cross on Saturday, the Michigan men’s basketball team announced it would be without perhaps its most important player, sophomore forward Mitch McGary, for an indefinite period.
But in their final non-conference tune-up, the Wolverines made up for his absence with not one but a host of contributors.
With four players scoring in double digits, Michigan (8-4) pulled away in the second half for an 88-66 win over Holy Cross (6-6).
The Wolverines put together a balanced scoring effort to offset McGary’s injury, led by sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III’s career-high 23 points. On the glass, they outrebounded Holy Cross 37-28, led by seven from sophomore guard Caris LeVert and six from sophomore guard Nik Stauskas.
To replace McGary, fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior forward Jon Horford totaled 16 points, 10 rebounds and 38 minutes, compared to just two minutes for redshirt sophomore Max Bielfeldt.
“They’ve been starving for minutes, so let’s get their heart rate up there, and now we’ll work Max back in,” Beilein said. “He knows a lot, but not enough.”
Robinson scored Michigan’s first five points, shot 8-for-14 from the floor and made two 3-pointers. But Michigan coach John Beilein said the sophomore can still play better.
“No. 1, he’s got to look for these opportunities more,” Beilein said. “No. 2, we have to continue to recognize where he’s comfortable. And No. 3, his teammates need to pass better. There are several times in games when he’s wide-open. He’s a good player — throw him the ball when he’s open.”
Even without McGary’s presence inside, Michigan gave up just three offensive boards and four second-chance points in the first half. The Wolverines also outscored the Crusaders 24-16 in the paint. LeVert and Stauskas provided help to Morgan and Horford, which could be key in conference play.
“The Big Ten’s the best conference in the country, so we’re excited,” Morgan said. “We’re going to be playing good teams night in and night out. We need that type of effort every night from Jon and myself and Max as well.”
Holy Cross didn’t test Michigan inside in the first half, finishing the frame without a free-throw attempt. Instead, the Crusaders played on the perimeter, attempting 23 3-pointers. Guard Justin Burrell scored 14 points on 4-for-5 3-point shooting.
In the second half, Holy Cross started to penetrate more, drawing five fouls in seven minutes. But the Crusaders couldn’t score quickly enough as Michigan went on an 18-4 run to pull away.
Even without McGary inside, the Wolverines shot 59 percent in the first half and 56 percent for the game. Stauskas pulled down five rebounds in the first nine minutes.
“Mitch is a big factor of our rebounding, so for (the small forwards) to be able to do that — rebound and outlet and go — that’s big for us to get out in transition and get some easy points,” Robinson said.
Playing against a high-intensity Holy Cross team, Michigan led 9-8 at the first media timeout. The Crusaders knocked down two early 3-pointers, drawing cheers from their energetic bench and coach Milan Brown.
But the Wolverines quickly pulled away by scoring 10 of the next 12 points, ending with Stauskas’s drive and over-the-shoulder pass to Horford for a layup.
In the first half, Holy Cross seemed to have an answer for every Michigan run. The Crusaders tipped a 3-point attempt and turned it into an easy layup at the other end to cut the lead to four at the eight-minute mark. But that was as small as it would get for the rest of the game, and the Wolverines led by 12 at the break.
“There’s no more games like (Saturday), and there’s no more games like some of the ones we had earlier,” Beilein said. “It’ll be more like you saw (in Michigan’s losses), so we’ve got to learn how to win on the road and at home.”
Three walk-ons came on in the final minute, ending the non-conference season and sending the Wolverines into 2014 and the 18-game Big Ten season that awaits.