Coming off of four straight losses, some might've been holding their breath as the Wolverines looked to avoid a fifth straight defeat against a 1-9 Coppin State team.
Fortunately for Michigan fans, they didn't have to hold their breath too long, as the game was just about over not long after the ball went up. The Wolverines jumped out to an early 11-0 lead, with four different players (Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman) getting in on the scoring. Eight of those points came from layups, giving a rattled Michigan squad just the early confidence boost it needed.
The Wolverines continued to keep their distance between a Coppin State team that, to its credit, played hard, but just didn't have the talent to match Michigan bucket for bucket. Getting plenty of open looks, the Wolverines shot 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) from three-point land in the first half.
However, the story of the first half (and the game) was the freshmen bigs, Doyle and Mark Donnal, who scored a combined 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting. No, Coppin State did not bring the most imposing frontcourt the Wolverines have seen, but production is production.
While the Wolverines did enter the half with a 42-26 lead, they led by as many as 21 at one point in the half. Also on the pessimistic front, seven first-half turnovers is not exactly what you want to see, although four came from Michigan bigs (one from Doyle, one from Donnal and two from Max Bielfeldt). On the bright side, 12 of Michigan's 17 first-half buckets were of the assisted variety, with seven coming from Walton.
Defensively, U-M held Coppin State to 37 percent shooting in the first half, and outrebounded them 18-12. Nonetheless, a 16-point lead is a comfortable one but by no means unassailable; the Wolverines would need to come out strong again in the early stages of the second half in order to put the Eagles away in earnest.
An Arnold Fripp jumper cut Michigan's lead to 14 early in the second half, as the Eagles seemed determined to hang around. Then, Caris LeVert lobbed one up to Zak Irvin, who rose and slammed one down, much to the holiday crowd's delight, pushing the lead to 19 with 15 minutes to play.
Defensively, Michigan was fairly airtight, as Coppin State managed a poor 28.6 percent mark from the field through 33 minutes of play, 4-for-24 from beyond the arc (16.7 percent).
The Wolverines never truly blew this one open, but there was never a point of true danger. There's not much to take from this one, other than the fact that winning sure does beat losing. Doyle finished with a career-high 16 points, this despite a 4-for-9 mark from the free throw line.
Michigan didn't shoot the lights out (8-for-26 from three) up to the level that you might have hoped for against an overmatched squad like Coppin State, but it didn't really matter. Doyle and Donnal got the job down low, which is a nice thing to be able to type; there's no more heroism in the spectacular three-point percentage than there is in productive play in the paint.
With the win, the Wolverines moved to 7-5 on the season, closing the book on a nonconference slate that started promisingly and ended with an abrupt swing in the opposite direction. Expectations have been recalibrated; this is far more of a work-in-progress than last year's squad, which started 6-4 before running through the Big Ten and, eventually, the Elite Eight.
With the losses Michigan took in nonconference play, anything worse than an 11-7 mark (or thereabouts), and Michigan could very well be on the outside looking in with respect to the Big Dance. But, the conference season is a marathon, not a sprint -- it all starts on Dec. 30, when the Fighting Illini come to Ann Arbor. One thing's for certain: to have a chance at advancing to meaningful postseason play (i.e. not the NIT), you have to hold serve at home.
The league might not be what it has been the past couple of seasons, but that doesn't mean it won't be a wild ride. Michigan will win some games it shouldn't and lose some games it shouldn't -- it's all about doing the former more often than the latter.