Everything about Saturday afternoon’s Michigan-Nicholls State matchup at Crisler Center embodied a post-Thanksgiving respite: an empty student section, the alumni pep band playing music the absent students wouldn’t have recognized and the vastly overmatched Colonels (0-4) being dominated from the get-go.
In the midst of a grueling stretch — including a 5 a.m. return from New York on Wednesday and a high-profile matchup with Syracuse looming Tuesday — the 19th-ranked Wolverines took full advantage of Saturday’s relaxed atmosphere, surging to a 53-20 halftime lead en route to a 91-62 win.
The blowout wasn’t hindered by the absence of sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr., who had previously started every game at point guard for Michigan (5-1), but didn’t dress because of an injury.
“It’s always scary going into a game when you’re missing what I think is one of the better point guards in the country,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “It’s some type of sprained toe.”
Junior guard Spike Albrecht made Walton’s absence a non-issue, contributing 32 minutes of smooth, turnover-free offensive facilitation.
Beilein referred to Albrecht as a “pass-first” point guard, analogizing the pair to football and describing each as a different style of quarterback.
“(Albrecht) may not be the scorer Derrick is,” Beilein said. “He’s more of a drop-back guy who’s going to see everything. Derrick’s more of a roll-out guy who can get on the run.”
Beilein sat Albrecht for the latter portion of the second half in favor of giving freshman guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins substantial game minutes.
Junior guard Caris LeVert made Albrecht’s job easy, leading the way with 19 first-half points. He finished with a total of 24 points, one shy of his career high. The bulk of LeVert’s scoring came from deep — he shot 5-of-6 from 3-point range, adding three rebounds and six assists.
“Spike and Derrick really have the same things in mind, they’re really an extension of Coach Beilein on the court,” LeVert said. “And we pride ourselves on not losing two games in a row.”
Perhaps most impressive on offense was freshman forward Ricky Doyle, who put up 11 points in the first half. Doyle played just 10 minutes in the period, but was effective enough to set a new career high in scoring, quickly surpassing the 10 points he scored against Oregon on Monday night. Doyle finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, including a pair of impressive contested jump-hook shots.
“He was plagued by injuries in September and October, and that kept him from getting a rhythm,” Beilein said. “We love that big right-handed jump-hook. That’s something that is a thing of beauty for every basketball coach in America.”
The Wolverines turned the mood around quickly after the few fans in the arena before tip-off watched the Michigan football team lose to Ohio State for the 10th time in 11 years. The game was shown on the arena’s video boards leading up to the basketball game, and the Wolverines watched the early stages from their locker room before warm-ups.
3-point shooting dominated the day for Michigan, as the Wolverines drained three shots from beyond the arc in the first four minutes. They continued their torrid long-range shooting throughout the game, eventually draining 14 of 24 attempts, or 58.3 percent.
Freshman guard Austin Hatch made his third appearance of the season in the game’s final two minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the crowd, which later urged him to shoot the ball every time he touched it. Hatch, however, didn’t record a shot attempt, and is still in search of his first field goal as a Wolverine.