ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On paper, it was Michigan’s biggest test since playing North Carolina on November 28th. In reality, No. 2 Michigan was a cut above fellow Big Ten co-leader No. 21 Indiana Sunday. The Wolverines scored on their first two possessions (It took Michigan nine minutes to do that Thursday against Penn State) and got out to an early lead that held the rest of the game vs the Hoosiers. Charles Matthews (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Jordan Poole (18 points, 5 rebounds) led Michigan to a wire-to-wire 74-63 win at Crisler Center.
“You just look at everything like it is another game. You do get a different vibe throughout the crowd and a different energy through the building.” Matthews told reporters Sunday. “You just feel like hey, can’t nobody get bigger than the moment, and the moment is not bigger than the team so I just try to stay within myself, stay within the team. We just wanna win. We pride ourselves on making winning plays and playing winning basketball, so we are gonna do what it takes to get a win.”
With numerous NBA scouts in attendance, including Michigan legend Glen Rice on behalf of the Miami Heat, Matthews and Poole led Michigan to a dominating performance against a quality opponent in a statement win. The wheels began to fall off for Indiana when the Hoosiers two best players, Romeo Langford (17 points, 6 rebounds) and Juwan Morgan (25 points, 8 rebounds) both reached two personal fouls in the opening four minutes. Michigan led 11-9 at the 15:40 mark of the first half. The Wolverines went on a 12-0 run over the next 2:37 to take a 23-9 lead and create a deficit the Hoosiers had a tough time challenging. A 7-0 Indiana run in the second half did close the gap to nine, but the Wolverines managed to hold the Hoosiers off from getting their first lead of the game.
“Offensively Charles and Jordan did not have the same half in the second half as in the first half and we still found a way to score some points, enough to beat them (Indiana,) our defense was really consistent.” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
Matthews individual performance stood out. Tasked with guarding former McDonald’s All-American Romeo Langford, Matthews contained the star freshman when assigned to him early. He also brought an electric Crisler Center crowd to its feet with a steal followed by a fast break dunk as well as taking on three Indiana defenders at once while driving the rim and getting fouled on a made basket. “I know he wanted that challenge he got a lot of respect for Romeo,” said Beilein. “He wanted to come in as a fourth year guy and we wanted to play through him and see what he was gonna do in that situation.”
The Matthews on display today was similar to the one that received Most Outstanding Player honors in the West region of last year’s NCAA Tournament. During that stretch, Matthews averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. After starting the season hot with four straight games reaching double-figure scoring, Matthews offensive outputs have been a mixed bag at best. If he can find his groove early in the coming games, the Wolverines offense will improve significantly as they navigate Big Ten play.
The most significant impact on the game was shown by freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. (8 points, 8 rebounds in 13 minutes) The 6’8 East Lansing native has played sparingly as he adjusts to the college game but was forced into action Sunday with Austin Davis getting into foul trouble early, Jon Teske needing rest, and Isaiah Livers missing a second consecutive game due to back spasms, Johns seized an opportunity. “Came into this game thinking of every other game,” said Johns when asked how he felt taking the floor in the first half. “If he (Beilein) calls my name, be ready, if he doesn’t, still cheer on my teammates. Just wanted to lay off the nerves a little bit and be comfortable.”
In his first stint on the floor, Johns played good defense against Hoosier senior Juwan Morgan, forcing him into a bad shot in the paint that missed, then turned around and scored his first points since November 17th against George Washington with a jumper to increase Michigan’s lead to 19. In the second half, as Davis ended up with his third and fourth fouls, Johns again tried to save the day for Michigan. His biggest play came on a putback slam off a Charles Matthews miss that brought a 7-0 Indiana run to a halt and pushed Michigan to a 57-46 lead. As the game progressed, Johns kept going. A sequence of a second-chance layup, a dunk, and a block on the defensive end allowed Johns to announce his presence. He was able to wrap up his Sunday by leading a chorus of The Victors in the locker room for his teammates and coaches. “Really pleased with it and hopefully that gives him confidence in all these things that we’ve been teaching him really work.” Beilein commented on the freshman’s performance. “He’s got another gear that we’re been trying to get out of him and we will.”
Beilein did point out that Johns playing time Sunday was out of necessity more than anything, and that his performances in practice, as well as outside factors, will dictate his playing time going forward. Isaiah Livers is still receiving treatment for his back spasms per Beilein, but told coaches he would be uncomfortable playing today after going through warmups. “I thought we made progress because the training staff took some steps to try and relieve the pain and loosen things up. I thought we were making progress but it wasn’t enough for him today.” Replied Beilein when asked for a Livers update.“He’s worked for two more days on this, it’s been four days working on it. He’s out there, he can shoot threes, I am not worried it’s gonna be lingering but we probably if in four days he hasn’t gotten better we will look at other methods.” The Wolverines are off until a game Thursday at Illinois (4-11, 0-4 B1G) but if Livers is unable to go, Johns may see some minutes in Champaign.
While Indiana drew close, Michigan did an excellent job battling through the adversity of missing Livers and having its offense sputter for most of the second half (The Wolverines shot 58% in the first half and 40% in the second, missing their final 10 three-point attempts.) The maize and blue have faced only one road test so far in the Big Ten, one the team passed at Northwestern with a 62-60 nail-biting victory in December. Michigan heads back on the road and to the Land of Lincoln against the Illini before Northwestern comes to Crisler for the Wildcats second game of the season with Michigan. John Beilein has repeated time and time, we will know how good his team is in Big Ten play, and Sunday, Michigan passed its test. Defeating both Indiana, and some of the challenges it faced regarding injuries and foul trouble. At the halfway mark of the season, Michigan is an imperfect 15-0, but 15-0 and undefeated in the conference, adding another win vs a ranked opponent to its resume. The second half of the season will bring new challenges and adversity, but with 15 games down, the Wolverines are getting it done by any means necessary.