Michigan Basketball moved to 2-0 on the young season on Monday night with an 88-68 victory over the Elon Phoenix at Crisler Center.
The story coming into Michigan’s second regular season game was the return of Zak Irvin.
With Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton injured for the bulk of the 2015 season, Michigan turned to Irvin to carry the offense. Yet, once the spotlight was on him, Irvin initially struggled in creating shots for others. As the season progressed, we saw the Zak Irvin that Michigan needs if they are to return to their winning ways; the one that grabs rebounds, sees the floor, and gets his teammates open looks. Sidelined since September after a back surgery, the former Mr. Indiana made his return to the Crisler hardwood tonight.
The early stages of the game were a bit of a slog. The Bo Boroski officiating crew whistled anything and everything (the NCAA’s new emphasis on calling hand checks was quite apparent), and Michigan looked out of sorts on offense for portions of the half. Defensively, Blue struggled, with Elon getting an alarming amount of solid looks. While all eyes were on Irvin, the stars of the half were Derrick Walton and Duncan Robinson. Walton, the Detroit product, tallied nine first-half points (all from beyond the arc), four rebounds, and four assists. Robinson displayed that gorgeous jumper in a perfect half from the field (13 points, 4-4 FG, 3-3 from deep). Michigan went to the locker room at half up, 43-33.
The second stanza was a different story. Michigan put the pedal down and raced out of the half scoring the first ten points. After a 22-3 run that stretched back to the tail end of the first, Michigan built a comfortable lead that was never threatened. Kam Chatman was a pleasant surprise in this one. After a very difficult freshman year and indications that he hadn’t came along as far as many had hoped in the exhibition against Le Moyne, Chatman looked much calmer and in control tonight. The flip side of that was Mark Donnal. While John Beilein has been patient with the forward, he’s struggled to finish and defend. Considering the forwards he’s matched up against so far are not nearly as polished as those he’ll see during conference play, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mo Wagner get a larger role than many expected.
As for Irvin, he seemed to show lingering effects from his back issue in having an uncharacteristically bad shooting night. It didn’t matter much in this one though. Despite showing some cracks on defense, Duncan Robinson was simply fantastic, finishing with 19. Derrick Walton (career-high 24 points, six rebounds seven assists) appears to be full-bore after an injury of his own, exploding to the rim, knocking down shots, and finding teammates. Not to forget about the Wolverine NBA scouts are most excited about, Caris LeVert (11 points, four rebounds, seven assists) had some moments of his own, most notably a few electrifying jams.
Michigan will happily take this one, though there’s no time for contentment. The Xavier Musketeers will trek up I-75 from Cincinnati to Crisler Center this Friday and challenge Michigan like neither of their past two opponents have.