The act of indifference came with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half. The No. 3 Michigan basketball team was leading Binghamton 21-12, finally starting to pull away en route to a 67-39 victory.
During a player interview on the jumbotron, senior forward Blake McLimans responded in jest to a question about his favorite singer, answering with Celine Dion. After the interview, the opening bars of a song began to play. The tune was on for less than 10 seconds, but its effect on the crowd, which started to laugh, was almost immediate.
The song? “Because You Loved Me,” by the aforementioned Dion.
This is not a song you would hear during Big Ten season against Ohio State, or Indiana or Illinois. You wouldn’t have heard this even two weeks ago, when Michigan hosted then-No. 18 North Carolina State.
But this wasn’t the Big Ten or even a tough non-conference opponent. This was Binghamton, a 2-9 team which lost its last contest by 22 points to Bryant and was a 38-point underdog coming into Tuesday night’s game.
So the Crisler Center public address played Celine Dion, a signifier of non-importance, and Michigan rolled.
It took the Wolverines some time at the beginning of the game to get going. They missed several open shots and committed two sloppy turnovers, and the Bearcats — mostly by relying on aggressive interior play and rebounds — even managed to take the lead a little more than seven minutes into the game.
But after a timeout, junior forward Tim Hardaway Jr. drove to the basket, spun and finished in the paint through a foul call. He made the free-throw attempt to put the Wolverines on top again, a lead they maintained for the rest of the game.
Michigan led by 20 at halftime but came out running in the second half, just in case the outcome was in any doubt. The Wolverines doubled Binghamton’s score, 54-27, with just more than 10 minutes left in the game, and the bench had been emptied by the game’s end.
“We learned our lesson last year, even with the freshmen coming in,” said sophomore guard Trey Burke about playing against less-talented teams. “We let (the freshmen) know that on any given night you can get beat, and I think that’s the biggest thing. We did a good job just coming out and giving them our best shot from the get-go.”
Even though Michigan won by 28 points, there weren’t many players who dominated the night. Burke took over with a couple highlight-reel plays and finished with a game-high 17 points on just 11 shots, and he was by far and away the biggest contributor on offense. On one fast-break play, Burke attempted a pass into the key that was deflected by a Bearcat big man. The ball caromed off the backboard and right back into the hands of Burke, who recovered with a spin and a layup in traffic.
“We had the exact same preparation we had for our game with Arkansas, as far as the time we spent and the whole deal,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I think they realize, and Trey has that elite mind where he’s saying, ‘I want to embrace every day, and be the best I can be every day,’ and that transcends to his teammates.”
Defensively, the Wolverines forced Binghamton into 16 turnovers and held the Bearcats to 34-percent shooting from the floor. The turnovers led to a healthy transition game, which led to a well-distributed scoring output — every Michigan player who plays regular minutes scored. Aside from Burke, the only other Wolverine who scored in double digits was freshman guard Nik Stauskas, who finished with 12 points, but also shot an uncharacteristic 36 percent from the floor.
It’s a little backward to say that Stauskas had an off shooting night when he went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, but expectations are high for the sharpshooting freshman, who has hit almost 60-percent of his three-point attempts on the year.
“The kid is supposed to shoot 5-for-8 every night,” Beilein said. “When he misses a couple shots, we are all surprised, aren’t we? He’s not going to be the first guy to shoot 60-percent from three, but I want him to shoot it when he’s open, pass it when he’s not, and have enough drive in his game so that he can get to the foul line as well.”
Tuesday night wasn’t a big game, but the one Saturday night will be. Michigan travels to Brooklyn, N.Y. to take on West Virginia in the newly constructed Barclays Center in its last real test of the calendar year.
You can bet there won’t be any Celine Dion in that building.