Detroit Mercy wasn’t supposed to put up a close fight against Michigan. Yet, with 4:44 remaining in the first half, the Titans (1-4) scrapped their way to a three-point lead over the Wolverines (3-0).

Michigan, who would ultimately win the game 95-62, struggled early to find its rhythm. The Wolverines accumulated six turnovers in the first 15 minutes and shot a mere 3-for-9 from the free throw line in the first half — a consistent issue for Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s squad throughout this young season. Detroit Mercy capitalized on the Wolverines’ sloppy early play and shot over 50 percent from three in the first half. 

“I think we were playing to our opponent, we weren’t playing to our ability,” said senior center Hallie Thome. “We had three turnovers to start the game, so having that be the start of the game kind of makes everyone a little anxious.”

Then, as soon as the Titans took the lead, Thome and freshman forward Naz Hillmon took over — scoring a combined 15 points in the final 4:30 of the half — leading Michigan on a 20-0 run going into the locker room comfortably up 54-37. 

From there on out the Wolverines dominated, forcing turnover after turnover. Their active press defense forced a staggering 29 turnovers and never gave Detroit Mercy a chance to regain its footing and climb back into the game.

“(Hillmon) definitely helped us a lot,” Thome said. “Naz and the press. She definitely set the tone getting all those turnovers and those ten-second counts. So definitely to have someone, and especially a freshman, set that tone and give us that energy I think we needed at that point and having it carry over to all of us helped us be able to kinda (put) our foot on the gas and keep going.”

Thome — who scored 25 points in just under 20 minutes — could not be matched by the smaller Titan team and scored nearly every time she shot the ball from the low post. 

Hillmon, meanwhile, injected an energy into the lineup that seemed to have been lacking since the opening tip. With Michigan running a press for much of the game, Hillmon raced all over the court, forcing turnovers and causing problems for the Titans. 

“(Hillmon’s) energy is contagious,” Barnes Arico said. “I think she just does a tremendous job of bringing it each and every single day. I think it’s definitely a difference maker in our program’s success so it’s great to have her and I’m glad she’s playing well right now.”

Hillmon’s most intense moment, though, came with just over a minute remaining in the first half and the Wolverines up 10.  

Following freshman guard Amy Dilk’s missed layup, Hillmon collected the rebound and put up a shot of her own while getting fouled. As soon as the ball slid through the cylinder, Hillmon turned around and let out an emphatic yell as she flexed her muscles toward her bench. 

“I like to bring a lot of energy to the game and if it’s ever flat I want to give a yell or a high five,” Hillmon said. “I think that being able to bring some energy to the team, that not only helps me and makes me want to go harder, but it definitely helps my teammates knowing that there’s somebody there encouraging them.”

Hillmon, who finished the game with 22 points and eight rebounds, and the rest of the Michigan starters, would not set foot on the court in the fourth quarter following the slow start with the game decidedly in hand.

The Wolverines will now prepare for the Gulf Coast Showcase, where they will first take on Missouri this Friday, Nov. 23, before playing two more games over the rest of the weekend. 

“I think we just really need to pay attention to detail because we’re going to be playing against some tremendous programs in Florida,” Barnes Arico said. “Every possession is going to matter; we need to be locked in and we need to be focused; we need to know our personnel, know our assignments. We’re going to have a quick turnaround, not a lot of prep time for the games, so it’s going to be important that we’re focused.”

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