They called it a Challenge, but it wasn’t much of one for Michigan.

Morgan Morel
Senior Courtney Sims leaps to grab a rebound. The Boston native was named to the All-Challenge team, and averaged 15 points and 5.3 rebounds over the weekend. (ALEX DZAIDOSZ/Daily)

The Wolverines cruised to three easy wins, including an 80-51 drubbing of Eastern Michigan on Sunday, as they opened the regular season with the John Thompson Challenge this weekend at Crisler Arena.

Michigan started Sunday’s contest with an 11-2 run and ended the first half with a 34-7 streak, which built an insurmountable 30-point lead.

Senior Courtney Sims led the way for the Maize and Blue, scoring 17 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.

There was a little extra motivation heading into last night’s contest against an Eagles’ team coached by former Michigan assistant coach Charles Ramsey.

“We really wanted to come out and make a statement against (Eastern Michigan) because they come and play open gym with us all the time in the summer,” Michigan senior guard Dion Harris said. “I think a lot of adrenaline was flowing, so we came out with a lot of energy.”

The game itself looked like something you would see at an open gym. The Wolverines set the tone early with their intensity on defense. They parlayed careless turnovers by the Eagles into dunks on the other end of the floor. Senior Brent Petway capped off the early run with an alley-oop dunk.

“Defense is what got us started off,” Petway said. “We were able to get in the passing lanes, get out in transition and get easy buckets.”

And defense was the theme of the round-robin tournament for the Wolverines. On Friday night, Michigan held Central Connecticut State to just 15 first-half points, and cruised to a 60-40 win over the Blue Devils. Saturday night saw more of the same as Davidson shot just 40 percent from the field in a 78-68 Wolverine victory.

“It’s nice to be 3-0,” said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker following Sunday’s game with Eastern Michigan. “I thought our defense was the story for us. We forced them into taking some tough shots, and held them to very low field goal percentage. And that’s something we’ve been able to do thus far this season.”

Those bad shots resulted from the pressure defense that Michigan hopes to continue throughout the 2006-07 campaign. In past years, the team has preached discipline and aggressiveness on the defensive end, only to see it wither away as the season progresses.

But according to the Wolverines, that is about to change. Just three games into the season, there are already motivational posters in each player’s stall instilling the importance of defense.

“(Amaker) wants our identity to be (that of) a good defensive team,” Sims said. “We’re trying to let defense win games for us. We’re getting opportunities because we’re playing good defense.”

The three wins this weekend gave Michigan a good chance to take stock of what type of team it has, as it inches closer to the meat of its nonconference schedule. So far, the returns have been good.

“Since the first game, we’ve really improved,” Sims said. “Everybody’s playing well right now.”

Following Sunday’s win over the Eagles, junior Ron Coleman and senior Courtney Sims were named to the All-Challenge team, and Harris was named the most valuable player.

The Wolverines hope to find more of a challenge Wednesday night, when they face University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.

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