ANN ARBOR — During Michigan’s busy stretch earlier this month, coach John Beilein pressed that his team was under pressure playing three games in six days with wins over North Carolina, Purdue, and Northwestern. The Wolverines game Saturday against Air Force was their second in seven, but the lack of game action over the past two weeks showed as Michigan struggled out of the gate before building an advantage over Air Force in a 71-50 win.
Turnovers told the story of the first half for Michigan. The Wolverines committed eight of them and scored only 28 points in the opening 20 minutes.
“We wasn’t gonna hang our head because we didn’t have the first half we wanted to. We just had to take care of the ball.” said Charles Matthews. When asked what Beilein said to the team about the turnovers: “Coach B yelled at us. We ain’t trying to get yelled at. We did what we said and got out of the game,” he chuckled.
“They had eight turnovers in the first score. What did we have? 28 in the half? 28. I told them if you want to score 28, which would be 56 points per game, then we turn it over,” Beilein said frankly. “We turn it over three times the second half, we score 43 points. You wanna score 90 points a game? Don’t turn it over.”
The fourth-ranked Wolverines spent the first half going back and forth with the Falcons until opening an 11 point lead off back to back three-pointers from Charles Matthews and Isaiah Livers. The second time Michigan reached an 11 point advantage was courtesy of an exclamation point from Ignas Brazdekis. The Oakville, Ontario native collected a loose ball near the three-point line and cleared himself for liftoff, slamming home a reverse jam with two hands in another highlight for his ever-growing reel of them.
Here is Ignas Brazdeikis’ steal and slam that put Michigan up by 11 in the second half. pic.twitter.com/HePbW6y1nQ
— Jay Sarkar (@ByJaySarkar) December 22, 2018
The Canadian’s rim-rattler seemed to spark Michigan as the Falcons never got closer than eight points for the rest of the game. Michigan put the game away with some impressive finishes at the rim, including an alley-oop from Zavier Simpson to Isaiah Livers to put the Wolverines up 23 in the final moments.
The Wolverines will now take some time to enjoy the Christmas holiday before returning to prepare for their non-conference finale against Binghamton on Sunday, December 30. The Bearcats are 4-9 with a 1 point win over LIU-Brooklyn coming Friday night. After the Bearcats, Michigan will resume Big Ten play against Penn State, but the team is not overlooking its final non-Big Ten foe.
“We come prepared to play against anybody.” said Matthews. ‘We don’t just say we will only get hype for a big game and take these people lightly.”
Michigan is 12-0 on the season, but the team has shown two different identities. There is the dominating unit that has beaten quality opponents such as UNC, Villanova, Purdue, and Providence. There is also a team that has struggled at times in home games against Air Force, Western Michigan, Holy Cross, and South Carolina. Beilein believes it is too early to pass judgment on the Wolverines as a whole but is aware of his team’s lack of consistency from game to game.
“I have no idea. (which team Michigan truly is.) We have been practicing consistently, and we have a good bunch of kids.” answered Beilein when asked about his team’s true identity. “It depends on the style of play we play. Thank goodness we have had no injuries, but it’s all a lot to due with that you know what I mean? How people play us, don’t forget, as we are scouting others, they are scouting us. The Villanova’s and Providence had one or two games of data, now people have 12 games of data, but we are doing the same thing. We have to adjust all year long.”
Michigan is in a position most teams are envious of, being undefeated nearing the start of the January grind of the season. This team is not without its flaws but John Beilein, ever the tinkerer with his lineups, strategy, and everything about his program, will not rest until this Michigan team sculpts itself into its final form, whatever that may be.