Hosting a middling Division II program, Michigan didn't want any surprises as it opened its 100th season of basketball on Friday night. The Wolverines had two main objectives: (1) win comfortably; and (2) don't suffer any injuries.
Check and check.
Michigan overcame a sloppy start to nuke Northern Michigan, 70-44, using a 27-8 run early in the second half to ensure that there'd be no late-game drama. Caris LeVert and Aubrey Dawkins ignited that key second-half spurt, combining for 16 points and four assists as the Wildcats couldn't handle their athleticism or ability to get in the paint. LeVert would finish with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, five assists, and four rebounds, while Dawkins needed only seven field-goal attempts to pour in 15 points.
Going with the same starting lineup that it had against Le Moyne -- Derrick Walton, LeVert, Dawkins, Kameron Chatman, and Mark Donnal -- the Wolverines looked like they hadn't played much basketball in the summer for the first 13 minutes or so. Michigan's offense wasn't crisp, and there was lots of unnecessary dribbling, which led to some sloppy, usually uncharacteristic turnovers. It also was hard for Michigan to get into an offensive rhythm because John Beilein was experimenting with different lineups and his rotation, even putting five reserves on the floor all at once. But Michigan was able to find some offensive success when it got close to the rim. Donnal and LeVert finished open layups, Chatman had a mid-air put-back, and Dawkins dropped in an odd-looking, left-handed floater from the elbow while moving to his right. And, when Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (MAAR) finally buried Michigan's first three from the corner to give the Wolverines a 15-5 lead with 10:46 left in the half, it seemed they finally would pull away.
But Northern Michigan -- a team that trailed Michigan State by only five points at halftime in an exhibition last week -- didn't plan to be put down that easily. After giving away possessions by committing numerous offensive fouls thanks to bad screens and wild elbows, the Wildcats began to find some open looks. Naba Echols finished back-to-back layups, and Jordan Perez knocked down a step-back jumper to cut the lead to four.
The Crisler Crowd was a bit dead, until Dawkins woke the place up with this tip slam:
HIGHLIGHT: Aubrey Dawkins with the monster put back slam! https://t.co/G9dDAMMsws— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) November 14, 2015
The vicious, left-handed put-back slam sparked the Wolverines' offense. Michigan would make its next five shots -- layups by LeVert, Walton, and Chatman, a hook shot by D.J. Wilson, and triple from Dawkins -- to give the Wolverines 30 points with just a few minutes left in the half. But Echols, who scored nine points in the final five minutes of the frame, kept the Wildcats in range as Michigan led, 36-26, heading into the break.
Then, the second half began, and LeVert and Dawkins took over. On Michigan's second possession of the half, LeVert saw Dawkins flash open in the left corner and threw him an overhead skip pass. Dawkins caught the pass and fired a three without any hesitation. Bang. Next possession, LeVert ran a pick and roll with Donnal on the right wing. As he dribbled towards the baseline, LeVert drew a second defender and dropped back a pass to Donnal, who popped to the wing and knocked down an 18-foot mid-range jumper. Two trips later, LeVert attracted another double team on the baseline and found a wide-open Dawkins cutting through the lane. LeVert hit him with a sharp pass, and Dawkins threw down his second dunk of the contest. Then LeVert capped off his assist spree by penetrating into the paint and kicking the ball out to an open Wilson in the right corner. Bang. Just like that, LeVert had assisted Michigan's first four makes to start a 10-0 run that'd turn into a 27-8 run after LeVert hit two threes and Dawkins finished an alley-oop.
Michigan had a 63-36 lead with eight minutes left, and it was all academic thereafter, with the only news being that Beilein inserted Moritz Wagner, burning his redshirt.
Michigan is 1-0 to start the 2015-16 season and will host Elon on Monday night (Nov. 16) in what should be another game that the Wolverines don't want any surprises.