ANN ARBOR — While it was a week for feasting, celebrating, and being thankful, the No. 9 Michigan Wolverines were not content to rest on their laurels, or look past Chattanooga towards the Big Ten ACC Challenge and the start of conference play next week. Post-game, the buzzword among Michigan’s players for their improved offensive showing Friday: aggression.
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“Just being aggressive out there, I am picking my spots a lot better. I am attacking the offensive glass more and getting to the free throw line.” said freshman Ignas Brazdeikis of his performance, his second straight 20 point game, which tied a career-high.
“Just being aggressive, I think we are thinking about playing offense too much.” added sophomore guard Jordan Poole (14 points, six rebounds) from the opposite side of the room. “Coach B has stressed he wants us to get out and run especially with our defense being as good as it is.”
Coming into the game having not trailed at any point in its last three wins (vs. Villanova, George Washington, Providence) Michigan put together its most complete effort at home so far, dispatching of the Mocs 83-55 at Crisler Center. Having shot a meager 36.4% in its first two home outings, the Wolverines came out of the gate sharp on Friday, shooting 48.3% from the floor and 40 percent from 3. John Beilein’s team finished the day shooting 49% from the field.
“You wonder when we went out to Villanova and all of a sudden we are making them from all over we’re saying why couldn’t we do this at home? We had similar shots, it is a slow trend of us being more comfortable.” said Beilein of his offense finding its footing at home.
Isaiah Livers provided the spark yet again off the bench. Livers checked in just 1:07 into the game for Ignas Brazdeikis and spent most of the first half on the floor, chipping in 12 points in the opening 20 minutes. The second half belonged to Brazdeikis. Michigan’s freshman opened the scoring with a triple, then made a heads-up play to collect a bounce pass from Charles Matthews, hesitate, and put up a shot while getting fouled. That three-point play pushed Michigan’s lead to 26 with 15 minutes to play. By the time the second half started winding down, chants of “Beat Ohio” rang out as the Crisler crowd headed for the doors and shifted their focus to Saturday’s football game.
“I feel like it’s important for all of us to play that well but for me, it was nice to get a little confidence boost going into these big games… What’s important is that I am shooting it with confidence” Brazdeikis said of his performance.
While Chattanooga did not provide the biggest of challenges, Friday’s win was important to Michigan to keep momentum before the gauntlet of next week arrives. The Wolverines will face North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday, then open Big Ten play against Purdue on Saturday afternoon.
“I think we will be ready, we’re prepared, we are always prepared as far as the coaching staff goes.” said Poole. “Being able to lock in, we got a day off on Sunday and get prepared for some high-level games against some high-level teams. It’s what we want to play basketball for.”
Michigan still has room to improve according to its head coach, who is ensuring his young team plays an unselfish brand of basketball. “I still think the ball doesn’t move the way it needs to move, and that everybody is trying to sort this thing out of ‘wait a minute, I’ve been a hunter all my life and now it’s my turn to hunt all the time’ when you’ve got five hunters out there, it doesn’t work very good. We have all people looking to hunt but ready to share the ball quickly if we are looking to score.”
He also implored his players to make sure no team gets as many looks from the three-point line as the Mocs did. Chattanooga finished the day 9-22 from 3PT, the most three’s Michigan has surrendered this year.
“That’s our only hope, is that we can be consistent with our defense. That team getting that many three’s today, that should not have happened. We were just a step late on defense, and we gotta make sure that does not happen Wednesday, or Saturday, or the following Tuesday, or the following Saturday.” Beilein finished.
The Wolverines now enter a four-game stretch against North Carolina, Purdue, at Northwestern and vs. South Carolina. While there is much to improve on, Beilein alluded to the fact his team has looked shakiest when it gets up by more than twenty points. The next few weeks will allow Michigan to learn more about itself, and prove itself on the national stage yet again.