The Michigan men’s basketball team’s last four exhibition games weren’t even close.

CLIF REEDER/Daily
Michigan sophomore Manny Harris plays against Saginaw Valley State on Thursday, November 6, 2008. The game was an exhibition, and Michigan won 81-55.

The Wolverines dominated lesser opponents, taking their last four exhibition games by an average of 38 points.

Last night, when the Wolverines headed for the locker room at the half with a 34-30 lead over Division-II Saginaw Valley State, memories of Division-II Grand Valley State upsetting Michigan State last preseason were hard to ignore.

But Michigan’s leader, sophomore wing Manny Harris, came to the rescue.

After scoring just two points in the first 20 minutes, Harris returned from the locker room on a mission, leading Michigan to a 81-55 victory with 14 second half points.

“I thought he was pressing really hard,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He missed a layup. He missed a foul shot. That’s not Manny. He just needs to relax, let the game come to him.”

Harris played guard most of last season but with fifth-year senior guard David Merritt and freshman guard Stu Douglass starting in the backcourt, Harris had to adjust to playing forward.

“I was just feeling out the position,” Harris said. “In the second half I knew I had to pick it up in order for us to win.”

Harris was more aggressive in the second half, shooting eight foul shots compared to one in the first half. He slashed to the rim from multiple angles, often passing to wide-open teammates for who knocked down open 3-pointers. Harris finished with three assists, but Beilein said after the game he hopes that number rises throughout the season.

Beilein said Wednesday that he wanted his team to come out and run the floor. But in the first half the Wolverines looked stagnant on offense.

In the second half, Beilein got his wish thanks in part to Harris and sophomore guard Kelvin Grady, who ran the Cardinals out of the gym.

Aside from Harris’ improved play in the second half, junior forward DeShawn Sims’s consistency helped Michigan start the season on the right foot. After breaking out last year, when Sims upped his points per game from 3.4 to 12.3 and started each game, it seemed that he had solidified a spot in the starting lineup. But even though Sims didn’t come into the game until the 15:14 mark, he wasted no time showing off his talent. In the post, Sims had his way against Saginaw Valley State’s Adam Gries and grabbed nine rebounds.

Sims was impressive in the first half, scoring from the block on back-to-back possessions. He demonstrated his efficiency by hitting 6-of-8 field goals and 6-of-8 free throws on his way to 19 points.

“Peedi (Sims) would like to win, and he likes those numbers no matter whether he starts or not,” Beilein said.

Harris and Sims both played crucial roles in the team’s defense. Down 25-20, Beilein deployed his 1-3-1 zone defense. On the first play, Saginaw Valley State committed a turnover by going over-and-back. Early in the second half, the team returned to the 1-3-1 and it proved effective once again.

Although it was just an exhibition game, Beilein said he was pleased with his team’s effort and the chance to play everyone on his bench. In fact, each player was in for at least three minutes, including 7-foot freshman center Ben Cronin. Cronin, who has been hampered with a hip injury and was cleared to play just last week, scored four points from the charity stripe while collecting three rebounds and blocking two shots.

“That’s what I like about the exhibition game so much,” Beilein said. “You learn so much from it without a tremendous amount on the line. I’m glad we got everybody in there.”

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