ANN ARBOR — Michigan promoted Saturday’s game against South Carolina as the second annual “Poole Party” and invited students to bring their best swimwear. Jordan Poole responded by putting forth one of his best performances in a season full of them. His career high 26 points led Michigan to an 89-78 win over the Gamecocks.
“26? Dang! Okay!” said a surprised Isaiah Livers when asked about Poole’s performance. “That is the Jordan we know, he can score at all three levels with ease and you know he is gonna take the crazy step back threes, he has to get one of those out of his system.” Livers continued.
“He is what we call a hard shot maker, ” said South Carolina head coach Frank Martin of Poole. “He makes the easy shots, and he makes the hard shots, those are the guys that are hard to guard.”
Among Poole’s 26 points and four three’s was a personal 8-3 run in the second half that helped Michigan re-establish a considerable lead that evaded the Wolverines much of the first half. Up 48-42 in the second half, Poole hit two three-pointers and a threw down a two-handed rim-rattling dunk off a feed from Zavier Simpson on a possession started by Jon Teske’s rebound. That extended Michigan’s lead to 11 points, matching the largest it had at that point in the game.
“I knew we ended out the first half pretty slow, not the way that we wanted to. We are huge on the first four minutes of the second half, coming out strong,” said Poole of Michigan’s offensive burst to open the second period. “I feel like we were able to set the tone for the entire second half… X was able to find me on a couple shots and being able to knock those down set the tone for the second half.”
“I don’t think that ball hit the floor, ” said Jon Teske of the sequence that led to Poole’s dunk. ‘We get a clean rebound, I am looking to kick it ahead. I found X then he found JP for the dunk. I think that is just how we play.”
Michigan needed the first twenty minutes of the game to adjust to South Carolina’s physically aggressive play style. The Gamecocks put Michigan into the double bonus 13 minutes into the first half, which for an iffy free throw shooting team like Michigan, could be genius if it works, or foolish if it backfires. It was a gamble South Carolina coach Frank Martin was willing to take. Michigan came into the game averaging nine turnovers per game. The Wolverines had 11 in the opening 20 minutes and finished the game with 16.
“We had some really careless ones,” said Beilein of his team’s turnover issue. “Over-dribbling and then Iggy is at the end and beat the press and now we’re trying to beat the press even better, but you have to be able to adjust to that. That is why the game was really close.”
Michigan held its lead for most of the second half but every chance the Wolverines had to put the game away, South Carolina managed to climb back in it and still had a puncher’s chance of an upset until the final few minutes. The Wolverines defense allowed a season-high 78 points to the Gamecocks, 11 more than North Carolina scored in Michigan’s win over the Tar Heels on November 28th.
Jon Teske again proved himself to be one of Michigan’s most vital players. The junior had 15 points and nine rebounds, and similar to the Northwestern game, the Wolverines found themselves limited on both ends of the floor in the 11 minutes he sat on the bench. Teske played only four minutes and collected three rebounds in Michigan’s game vs. South Carolina in 2016. Teske reflected on the leap he made from that game over two years ago to now. “Freshman year was a huge jump and I kind of struggled with that at first. I just had to keep working and keep using all the tips from Moe (Wagner) and Mark (Donnal) D.J (Wilson) and all them and just see how fast the pace is.”
Isaiah Livers believes it all changed for Teske just before the weekend when Michigan beat George Washington and Providence in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. “Jon’s been a monster. It took a second like three weeks ago; Coach B had to get into him like ‘grab that rebound!’ Ever since then he has been grabbing them out of the air, rebounds, dunking anybody’s lobs. He has been great” commented Livers on Teske’s performance.
As for those 11 minutes when Teske was off the floor, Austin Davis had a difficult outing. In 4:07 of game time, Davis had two rebounds, a foul, and a turnover. John Beilein told Ann Arbor radio station WTKA “The backup five spot is wide open” in an interview on Friday. As the schedule slows down over the next few weeks, Beilein will identify if Davis is the right player for the job or if Brandon Johns or Colin Castelton can seize the opportunity.
Seven hundred forty-five days before Saturday, Michigan and South Carolina faced off at Colonial Life Arena in one of the worst games the Wolverines had endured in several years under John Beilein. Michigan finished 10 for 52 from the field and 2 for 26 from beyond the arc. The 61-46 Gamecock victory left John Beilein, and his staff puzzled by the defensive mismatches and size that South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s team brought to the court. The Gamecocks went on to the Final Four that year, Michigan wasn’t far behind them.
What a world of difference two years made.
“I was watching our film from two years ago and you and Teske were like two little kids. I said now I am watching you guys play and it is unbelievable how much better you guys play and how different you guys look.” Martin told Zavier Simpson Friday when the Gamecocks arrived at Crisler Center. “John does an unbelievable job making his players better through their careers,” said a very praiseful Martin.
“That’s what college basketball has to be more about, is kids developing over time.” replied Beilein when asked about Martin’s comments. “Instead of focusing on all these guys who are impact players right away and forgetting about the other guys, that’s what student-athletes have to embrace, there is a process they have to go through.”
Frank Martin also said that Michigan has a “Championship DNA” based on the way the Wolverines cut, dribble, pass, and play the game. “Nobody is looking around and saying ‘where’s Duncan or where’s Moe?” Beilein said of his team not losing a step since last year’s National Championship appearance. “They are attacking with what we have. I think we have really good mindset of we gotta be tough number one, we have to guard number two, and we have to be versatile number three.”
The Wolverines have managed to find a way to win games both high-scoring and low, close games and blowouts, and have gotten themselves to 10-0 one-third of the way through the season. The road to 13-0 is crystal clear with home games vs. Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton in the next three weeks. John Beilein and the players will use this time to get better and see just how far they can ride this wave of wins and momentum.