Correction appended: This article incorrectly said Michigan didn’t play Duke during Tommy Amaker’s tenure as head coach. Michigan played Duke in December 2002.
DURHAM, N.C. – In Michigan’s first eight games, sophomore Ekpe Udoh has brought his energy and defensive presence off the bench.
On Saturday, Michigan coach John Beilein decided to start with that intensity.
For the first time this season, Beilein went with Udoh over redshirt sophomore Zack Gibson in the starting lineup.
Udoh seized the opportunity – he finished the game with eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
When Michigan kept the game close early on, it was Udoh’s defensive prowess inside that altered Blue Devil shots and forced misses.
“You can see the game started off a lot differently than it has in the past,” redshirt freshman Anthony Wright said.
Udoh saw his start as a sign Beilein has more confidence in him.
“We talk every now and then,” Udoh said. “He gives me words of encouragement to just go out and play how I play.”
Whereas Beilein acknowledged Udoh has made improvements, he justified his decision to start Udoh over Gibson as a tactical move to counter Duke’s pressure defense.
“(Against) a team like Duke, you have to have excellent passers,” Beilein said. “You have to have excellent drivers.”
Even though Gibson didn’t start, he had one of his best games of the season. In 12 minutes off the bench, Gibson tied a season high with 11 points.
It’s a family: If Tommy Amaker was still Michigan’s basketball coach, Saturday’s game wouldn’t have happened.
Amaker was a player and assistant coach at Duke before becoming a head coach at Seton Hall and then Michigan. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski avoids regular-season games against his former players and assistants.
“I don’t want to beat my son,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t want my son to beat me.”
Michigan and Duke have faced off every December since 1989. The only exceptions are three of the five years in which Amaker coached at Michigan.
I like you, man, but you Crazies: Duke freshman Taylor King came off the bench just two minutes into Saturday’s game.
Although he was the Blue Devils’ first sub, Udoh didn’t label him their sixth man.
“Their crowd is their sixth man, really,” Udoh said. “It’s crazy.”
From the moment the Wolverines stepped onto the floor during pregame warm-ups until the final buzzer sounded, the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium was raucous.
It made a point to remind the Wolverines of last week’s loss to Harvard and that redshirt junior guard C.J. Lee’s full name is Cecil Brian Lee.
But even though Michigan was the opponent Saturday afternoon, the crowd targeted North Carolina in numerous chants.
Duke students started camping out on Thursday for the best seats to Saturday’s game. Some tried to camp out on Wednesday, but school officials said it was too early.
“It was exciting, if anything,” redshirt freshman K’Len Morris said. “Cameron is a place, growing up, you always wanted to play in. So, it was really cool, coming in and actually getting to experience it firsthand. During the game, you really don’t focus on it too much.”
Smith’s status in doubt: Junior point guard Jerret Smith decided not to travel to Duke to complete academic obligations, according to the athletic department.
“We’ll meet when we get back home as far as what he can do, but, obviously, it’s an extremely important issue that he shores up the academic issues that he currently has in front of him,” Beilein said.
Earlier in the season, Smith was suspended one game for violating the team’s class-attendance policy.
Injuries and suspensions have limited Smith, the team’s most experienced guard, to just five games this season. He is averaging four points and two rebounds per game.