In an 82-51 win over Saginaw Valley State, Michigan coach Juwan Howard got his first win with the Wolverines in dominating fashion.
While it may have just been an exhibition match, it’s a significant milestone nonetheless.
Using the opportunity of the preseason game to explore the depths of his roster, Howard played as many of his guys as he could. Freshman guard Cole Bajema saw the floor for the first time as a Wolverine and sophomore forwards Brandon Johns Jr. and Colin Castleton were featured heavily in the lineup after not playing much last season.
Junior forward Isaiah Livers led the team in scoring with 20 points, supplemented by senior guard Zavier Simpson facilitating the offense, who notched 11 assists and seven points. Junior guard Eli Brooks also provided an offensive boon with 13 points in the affair.
“Eli is a big competitor,” Howard said. “He may look small because of his size, but he’s tough. He competes every day in practice vs. Dave and (Zavier Simpson). So as far as getting a double-double, that was big. I challenged our perimeters, he had a lot of long rebounds, so that’s important.”
Additionally, Michigan was able to force the Cardinals into making costly ball-handling mistakes, causing Saginaw Valley to commit 20 turnovers.
When all was said and done, one thing was clear: this team will be playing faster than last year’s. The Wolverines repeatedly pushed the ball in transition and looked for quick scoring opportunities.
“We’re still getting used to it a little bit,” Johns said. “Sometimes we go a little too fast for ourselves, but that’s something that we’ve been planning pregame is playing fast and being one of those fast-running teams.”
From the onset, the match was looking like a very lopsided affair with the Wolverines jumping out to a quick 10-point lead. Everything was clicking early and it looked like no offensive prowess was lost from last season’s talented squad.
This initial run was highlighted by an easy back-to-the-basket jumper for senior forward Jon Teske to open the game and a thundering dunk from Livers. Pushing the ball in transition, Simpson caught a dashing Livers as he headed for the basket. Lobbing the ball to Livers, Simpson found the junior for the athletic slam.
From there, the starters were pulled and the offense subsequently hit a snag. The pace dwindled, and with it, the scoring, with Michigan struggling to find a bucket through the bulk of the first half. The Cardinals kept coming, repeatedly connecting on tough buckets to cut the lead to just two.
“We had a lot of turnovers in the first half,” Brooks said, “and that’s just getting used to playing that way against other competition, but that’s something we’re just gonna have to learn first hand.”
Coming back to life, the Wolverines snapped out of their funk and put together a 10-0 run to end the first half. To close things out, Simpson buried a three from the corner and on the defensive end, sophomore forward Colin Castleton blocked a shot attempt in the post.
Michigan picked up right where it left off in the second half marked by a bucket from sophomore guard Adrian Nunez and a 3-point shot from Livers.
From there, the Wolverines extended the lead to 20 and didn’t let up, pushing the lead to 30 off a strong run highlighted by a signature Simpson hookshot and a Livers three.
Michigan maintained the lead until the final buzzer, demonstrating an up-tempo offensive performance, buckets in transition and an ability to force turnovers.