In the holiday spirit, the Michigan men’s basketball team delivered a present to the home court crowd on Thursday night.
The Wolverines topped Bradley, 77-66, and finished off their non-conference slate with a perfect 7-0 record on home court.
The star of the contest was Michigan sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, who finished with a season-high five 3-pointers en route to his second straight double-double. Many of his 20 points were timely as well, as he consistently killed any momentum the Braves could find.
Michigan (10-2) sagged throughout the first half. After winning the opening tipoff, redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan took a pass under the basket, but when he went up he got stuffed by Bradley forward Taylor Brown. Morgan found his own rebound and tried again, but Brown blocked him once again.
The Braves’ defense silenced the Michigan crowd quickly.
“That’s just part of being a player — you’ve got to stay positive,” Morgan said after the game. “And just keep believing that you’re going to get more opportunities, and the next time that opportunity comes, you’re not going to let it slip.
“If we can shoot and also be nasty and be able to finish well, we’ll be a tough team to play against.”
The Wolverines were able to recover thanks to solid shooting in the first half. Twenty-one of Michigan’s first 25 points came on 3-pointers, and the team was 7-for-18 from behind the arc in the half.
It seemed like Michigan would never be able to penetrate the Bradley defense underneath.
“They played a 3-2 zone that we had not seen in any scouting report that I heard of,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “With (freshman point guard) Trey (Burke) playing against that, he really hasn’t seen that either. We were doing some things in the huddles trying to help us with that.”
Late in the first half, Michigan finally starting clicking when Burke hit senior guard Zack Novak underneath with a pass from the top of the key and he finished with an easy layup.
After a quick defensive rebound on the other end, Michigan pushed the ball in transition and sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a streaking Morgan for another easy two.
The Wolverines’ five-point lead following those scores didn’t last long, though. The Braves fought back and tied the game heading into the half on a long 3-pointer by Brown at the buzzer.
“I wasn’t pleased (at) halftime,” Beilein said. “Not our play, as much as our frustration level on the team as individual players. This is a big thing that we have to keep working on. … We have some guys that really want to win, and sometimes want to win too much that it gets in the way.”
Following the break, Bradley matched Michigan seemingly any time the Wolverines took the lead.
But about midway through the half, Michigan went on a 14-5 run, capped by an alley-oop in transition — senior guard Stu Douglass to Hardaway Jr. for the finish — to put the Wolverines up by 11. When first-year Bradley coach Geno Ford called a timeout, Michigan fans gave a standing ovation and easily the loudest hurrahs of the season.
Possibly the biggest difference between the two halves was the rebounding battle. In the first half, Michigan was out-rebounded by Bradley, 26-18, but in the second, the Wolverines won the battle, 21-10.
“In the end, 45 percent (for Michigan) from the field, that’s not what got us beat,” Ford said. “Thirty-two percent from three, that’s not what got us beat. It was the backboard.”
Next Thursday, Michigan will welcome Penn State to Crisler Arena to open almost a month-long stretch of Big Ten play.