ANN ARBOR – It’s that time of the year, folks. Players are balancing finals week and lesser competition. Lack of sleep can be an issue.
The offense decided to nap over the first 18 minutes Saturday, scoring well under a point per possession en route to a 28-20 deficit to Western Michigan.
Three steals, a few breakaways and a Charles Matthews buzzer-beating layup seized the lead back by halftime.
From there, the Wolverines (11-0, 2-0) scuffled to a 70-62 victory Saturday over the Broncos (5-5) at Crisler Center.
“I saw (former captain) Zach Novak at the game today,” John Beilein said. “He reminded me about the Savannah State game…we barely won that game (66-64 in overtime in 2009). It sent me into a shock, and I almost willed us to repeat that performance.”
Matthews finished with a double-double, scoring 25 points and nabbing 10 boards. He bullied his way to the rim, and displayed confidence at the charity stripe with a 11-for-16 effort.
His run at the line followed two early misses.
“(I have a) next shot mentality,” he said. “(I’m) just trying to be aggressive, and keep applying the pressure.”
He lifted Michigan from a sloppy start in many facets. The offense coughed up four early turnovers, including Jordan Poole bobbling a pass on the sideline to sabotage a fast break. A Matthews three broke a 0-for-6 start.
While the defense allowed only .82 points per possession in the half, no one could stop Bronco guard Michael Flowers. The sophomore went on a personal nine-point run to stretch the lead to eight.
He finished with 31 points on 14 shots.
“He was a hell of a player,” Matthews said. Beilein noted that Flowers poured in 26 points against Cincinnati on Nov. 19.
Matthews and the defense fueled the comeback. First, he snagged an offensive carom and muscled for a putback. He then converted two straight freebies after a Zavier Simpson catalyzed a fast break off a steal.
Another takeaway by Ignas Brazdeikis turned into an easy two points by Simpson. Matthews did the rest by himself, including a dunk before the buzzer-beating layup.
Out of the break, the Wolverines threatened to pull away a few times. After sitting in the first half with two fouls, Jon Teske shut down fellow 7-footer Seth Dugan, rejecting an early hook shot to set the tone.
Dugan, a player Beilein praised this week, mustered just seven points on eight attempts. Austin Davis even chipped in with a few defensive stops – and four points off pick-and-rolls.
With the defense focused, Poole and – you’re reading this right – Simpson took over from behind the arc. The former made a pair to get to 14 points, but Simpson took advantage of sagging defense to connect from deep thrice.
Beilein talked about Simpson’s improving stroke on Friday. The junior point guard validated it, pushing his three-point total to eight on the season.
“We drew up a play for him to hit a three, and he did,” Beilein said. “That’s something we’re not going to give up on. When (teams are) sitting in the paint, we’re going to take advantage of that.”
“When he makes shots, everyone loves him,” Matthews said of Simpson. “If he doesn’t, he gets criticized. People don’t see the intensity he brings everyday in other ways.”
He racked up 15 points total, including five rebounds and three assists.
His third trey pushed the lead to 55-45 with eight minutes left, but the Broncos held strong. A Matthews corner three bolstered the lead to 66-58 with 1:13 to go. The Wolverines would lead by no less than six from there.
The hosts ended up hitting over 44 percent from the field, including a 7-of-18 performance from deep.
The defense amassed 10 steals, which led to 20 points off turnovers. It also held its 10thopponent of the year under a point per possession.
The Wolverines return to Crisler next Saturday against Air Force (4 p.m. ET, BTN).