It wasn’t pretty at the start, but by the end of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 92-68 win over Hillsdale, the familiar sights of raining 3-pointers and two-handed, breakaway dunks ruled the day again.
Trailing early, the Wolverines used their speed on defense and in transition to grab a lead on the Chargers they did not relinquish.
At the game’s outset, the Wolverines appeared to be forcing shots from beyond the arc early in the shot clock. That, combined with Hillsdale’s Stedman Lowry opening the game with 11 points in the first 4:37, prompted the Wolverines to amp up their intensity on defense.
And once they did, they found their rhythm. Creating fast breaks led to easy dunks and often resulted in open space on the offensive end, leading to uncontested 3-pointers. Michigan made 9 of 11 triples to close the first half after starting 0-for-3 from deep.
“I think they were a little more comfortable with us sitting back and trying to negotiate screens and make sure we weren’t getting back cut and stuff like that,” said sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr.. “Once the guys kind of put more heat on the ball, we generated more steals and leak-outs, and we’re really good in transition, so (we) got some easy baskets.”
Walton, sophomore forward Zak Irvin and junior guard Caris LeVert hit consecutive 3-pointers in a one-minute span to pull Michigan back into the game.
The Chargers operate out of the swing offense, which emphasizes ball motion around the perimeter to create open cuts to the basket. But while Michigan worried about those cuts, Hillsdale was hitting shots from outside. Lowry sank two triples in the first three minutes before the Wolverines went to a more aggressive defensive set.
Michigan went on a 28-9 run over a 10-minute span in the middle of the first half and went into the break up 50-33. Of those 50 points, 16 were off turnovers.
The Chargers cut the Michigan lead to 10 early in the second frame, but the Wolverines clamped down again, allowing just eight points in the last eight minutes.
“We just put more pressure on the ball,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Get the guy so he’s got to pivot a little bit more and then get in some passing lanes. That was the difference to let us get away, or that could have been an 8-10 point game.”
One of the most active defenders was freshman forward Kameron Chatman, who had three steals in the first half and finished the game with four. Chatman used his length to break up telegraphed passes and hit outlets to push the ball up court.
And when the run was on, LeVert was usually in the thick of it. The junior finished with 21 points and nine assists, dishing if he was pressed and taking lanes when he saw them.
Michigan’s superior speed and athleticism showed in the open court, while Hillsdale struggled to get back on defense.
“We were just talking more, talking and communicating, which led to getting in transition,” Irvin said. “When our defense turns into our offense, we’re pretty good.”