There are still problems, and the Wolverines know that. One torrid second-half run doesn’t change much. But with the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 67-53 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Wolverines showed they can still grab momentum at any given moment.
After taking just two shots in the first half and playing uncharacteristically passively on offense, junior forward Manny Harris tallied 14 points in the opening eight minutes of the second half to lead a 17-5 Michigan run. A halftime tie turned into a comfortable lead and the Wolverines (4-3) cruised from there, but it took much longer than anyone on the team would have liked.
Michigan shot just 4-of-21 from the outside in the first frame, including 3-of-15 from behind the arc. Each miss magnified the defensive lapses that allowed Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-6) to stay within striking distance. And Michigan coach John Beilein seemed very concerned that several of the team’s sharpshooters couldn’t break out of their early-season slump.
“The best players that were out there were getting good shots,” Beilein said. “And other guys who were out there wide open didn’t make them. You tell me another day when you’re going to see Zack (Novak) and Stu (Douglass) go 1-of-11 (on 3-pointers). … People are going to keep packing it in until we get it going (from the perimeter).”
Harris, Novak and Douglass — last season’s primary three-point shooters — have combined to hit 23 of 93 shots from behind the arc in the team’s first six games. Redshirt sophomore guard Laval Lucas-Perry, who opened Saturday with two quick triples, has been the lone offensive bright spot from the perimeter. He has made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.
Beilein compared the individual cold streaks to a hitting slump in baseball, and admitted there’s not much a coach can do other than to continue encouraging his players.
“I still don’t know how we’re going to get out of this deal where we have some pretty good shooters who have lost so much confidence,” Beilein said. “But when that happens, you have to play great defense, and that’s the only thing that saved us in this second half.”
Once Harris blew the game open after halftime, Michigan’s defense seemed much looser on the floor. After the Golden Lions shot 14-of-26 in the first half, the Wolverines held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to just 27 percent shooting after the break.
Part of that percentage can also be explained by the Golden Lion offense averaging out. Arkansas-Pine Bluff was shooting just 41.5 percent entering Saturday, and their Jekyll-and-Hyde performance before and after the break combined for a 41.7 percent clip on the afternoon.
“We were just flat in the first half,” Harris said. “Second half, we picked it up, were more active with our hands and just talking (to each other on defense).”