ANN ARBOR – North Carolina was hoping to make Michigan play to its rapid tempo on Wednesday night, and for the first few minutes, things looked like they may go the Tar Heels way. UNC’s Brandon Robinson hit a three-pointer seven minutes into the game that gave his team a 21-11 lead. The pendulum then swung in Michigan’s direction.
“We are all confident in each other. We play selfless basketball, we don’t care who scores, we just want to win, so that is what got us the dub.” said freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, who sparked a 17-2 Wolverines run that put Michigan in front 28-23. During that run, Brazdeikis, Eli Brooks, and Charles Matthews all scored baskets that had the Crisler crowd reaching eardrum-rattling levels of loud. “I expected a big crowd, but when everyone started yelling and screaming, my emotions were so high, there is just not a better feeling in the world,” said Brazdeikis, who fed off the energy in the building all night long.
While Brazdeikis served as a spark, it was Jon Teske who was making clutch plays throughout the night, the most prevalent of which came late in the first half. After a Charles Matthews three put Michigan up 36-35 (and broke a six-plus minute scoreless streak from the field for Michigan.) Jordan Poole poked the ball loose from UNC guard Andrew Platek, Poole lost his handle, and all seven feet of Teske hit the deck to dive for the loose ball and pass it back to Poole, who nailed a three-pointer to put Michigan up 39-35 at the break. According to those on the floor, that was a game-changing play.
“Being able to end the first half on a run like that was huge, hitting that shot, it got everyone going, and it let us hit the ground running (in the second half.)” said sophomore guard Jordan Poole, who finished with 18 points. Hindsight may be 20/20, but even a coaching veteran like North Carolina’s Roy Williams didn’t know that play would turn the game in favor of Michigan for the rest of the night. “I didn’t think it was going to be an uphill battle at that time.” a visibly frustrated Williams said at his postgame presser. “Guys think about this, the ball was being deflected out-of-bounds and we thought it would go out-of-bounds, their player (Teske) hustled, got the ball threw it back in and they attacked us on the other end, so I was frustrated.” Even John Beilein was impressed with the hustle by his junior center, known by his teammates as Big Sleep, “That was a big part of it. We needed something going into halftime to get us going. We did get up, then all of a sudden they made a little bit of a run. 7 foot 1 guys don’t go and get the ball like that.” said Beilein with a sense of pride and astonishment.
Michigan opened the second half shooting the lights out and ratcheting up its defensive prowess, outside of an 11-0 UNC run inside the final ten minutes that cut the Wolverines lead to eleven points, it was smooth sailing to the finish line. Somehow, a 17 point victory over North Carolina is Michigan’s closest win of the young season. “As a coach, I feel like I have done the worst job with this team in 31 years as a head coach… The most frustrated I have ever been” Williams said plainly of his team’s loss. When John Beilein heard about Williams comments, he took them as a badge of honor for his squad. “That is one of the biggest compliments I have ever had… It’s not like we are trying to frustrate you, we are trying to keep people from scoring baskets,” said Beilein of his team’s approach, one that led to Michigan contesting over 90 percent of UNC’s shots and the Tar Heels shooting less than 25 percent midway through the second half.
The win over UNC continues a pattern we saw against Villanova, and have seen throughout Beilein’s tenure at Michigan. It is rare that the Wolverines get beaten twice by the same team. Michigan dismantled Villanova in Philadelphia two weeks ago and now dispatched of North Carolina on its home floor. The word “revenge” may not be the official slogan of Michigan Basketball, but the thought has crossed minds in the locker room. “It’s like the football team. We were on a revenge tour ourselves,” Brazdeikis said. “We needed to win those games and bring our confidence up, and I feel like we are playing at a very high level right now and we just need to improve every single day,” he finished.
Michigan has won 21 of its last 22 games dating back to last season, and 16 of those wins have come by double-digit margins. With that perspective, it almost makes a win like Wednesday’s, holding North Carolina to 30 points below the Tar Heels average, seem somewhat normal as opposed to the outlier it is. Michigan now opens Big Ten play brimming with confidence, looking to beat a No. 19 Purdue team that topped the Wolverines twice in the regular season in 2017-18 by a combined five points (including a one-point loss at Crisler that had a finish marred by replay review.) If the Villanova game was a reminder of what Michigan can be, the North Carolina game was proof that the Michigan team we’re seeing is no mirage when playing at its best. Michigan is a young, well-balanced team that competes on both ends of the floor, and one that wants to (and very well could) be in Minneapolis come April to win the National Championship that evaded them nearly eight months ago in San Antonio.