ANN ARBOR – In a clash of conferences, styles, and veteran coaches, Michigan and North Carolina produced an unlikely result in Crisler Center Wednesday night; the Wolverines blitzed the Tar Heels 84-67 in another blowout win to improve to 7-0 on the year.
North Carolina pushed Michigan with pace early, Roy Williams was insistent his Tar Heels try and set the tempo against a slower-paced, defense-first Michigan team, and it worked, as the Tar Heels ran out to a 21-13 lead. Then, Ignas Brazdeikis returned to the floor.
The freshman had to sit down just 3:09 into the game after taking an unnecessary foul and Michigan fell behind, but his return sparked a 9-0 run to give Michigan its first lead of the night, six points coming from Iggy himself. A Brazdeikis And-1, a three-pointer, and a triple from Eli Brooks made Crisler louder than it has been at any point since the Fresh Five days, or even the Fab Five days. A breakaway dunk from Charles Matthews to follow cranked the sound up to about 12.
Brazdeikis’ return to the court helped spark a 17-2 run that gave Michigan a 28-23 lead on the Tar Heels going into the Under-8 media timeout. It was an offensive explosion we have only seen out of the Wolverines one previous time this season, against Villanova. The Crisler Center crowd roared with approval as the Michigan faithful watched their Wolverines take down another standout opponent.
John Beilein’s young team is carving out a reputation for itself of shining when the lights are brightest, and more specifically, against teams that beat Michigan last year (North Carolina beat Michigan 86-71 last season in Chapel Hill.)
At the same time, the group being as young as it is, Michigan went through a scoring drought of over six minutes from the field late in the first half. The Wolverines showed again they have a knack for making plays when needed: A three-pointer by Matthews gave Michigan a 36-35 lead, then a turnover forced by Jordan Poole, a hustle play by Jon Teske to keep possession and a feed to Poole for 3 gave Michigan a 39-35 advantage heading into halftime.
The second half began the same way the first half ended, Poole and Brazdeikis sunk threes and a Jon Teske dunk led to Roy Williams immediately calling a timeout less than three minutes into the half. That set the tone for the rest of the night as North Carolina never drew within closer than the four it was down at halftime.
The Tar Heels shot only 39.4 percent from the field for the game as Michigan contested most of UNC’s shots in the second half after a difficult first half.
The Wolverines were not without their flaws Wednesday night, the free throw shooting in the first half was abysmal. Michigan headed into the double-bonus late in the half just 2/6 from the line having missed two front-ends of one and one opportunities. John Beilein has reiterated that the team is working on free throws in practice, but that has not translated to on-court success. The Wolverines shooting from the stripe improved in the second half, but it is something the team will strive to improve. North Carolina did manage to go on an 11-0 run late in the second half, Beilein stressed pregame that he is concerned about how his team performs once they are up twenty late in games, and that was an issue again Wednesday.
Brazdeikis and Matthews did enough to counter the run and put the game away, but an 11-0 run is something Luke Yaklich will point out in the film review of this game.
Wednesday night’s performance was a statement by Michigan to the entire country that Michigan made the national championship game last season and somehow got better. The scoring distribution the Wolverines exhibited across two games in Connecticut continued vs. the Tar Heels, as Brazdeikis had 24 points (a new career-high) Matthews scored 21 and Poole had 18. John Beilein said at his media availability before the game that this year’s team was a puzzle he and his assistants looked forward to piecing together.
Through seven games, Michigan has shown itself to be a Rubik’s cube for every team it has faced, and one that can leave even some of the game’s best coaches (like UNC’s Roy Williams) scratching their heads when the final buzzer sounds.
The Wolverines open conference play Saturday against Purdue, a team that bested Michigan twice during the regular season last year before the Wolverines topped the Boilermakers for the Big Ten Tournament title.
Riding high off an undefeated start with another signature win in hand, the Wolverines have many reasons to believe that Michigan will come into next week 8-0 on the season with another ranked win in hand.