Michigan entered Saturday’s home tilt as the second-best team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. Western Michigan — No. 222.
Despite the analytics mismatch, the Broncos raced out to a 28-20 lead with just minutes left in the first half.
The Wolverines needed all hands on deck to make the right plays to pull out a 70-62 victory.
Austin Davis gives a great shift
There’s no getting around it. People have been savaging Davis’ play lately.
His on-court play against Northwestern and South Carolina a week ago saw the Wildcats and Gamecocks both make runs. On offense, he failed to notch any points.
His recent performances led to a bevy of speculation about Brandon Johns taking over the backup five role. With Jon Teske in first half foul trouble, Davis was still the first man off the bench.
He walled off the Bronco’s 7-foot senior Seth Dugan, forcing a missed hook shot. He also ran the court well, snaring a laser of a push pass from Zavier Simpson for a layup. He later executed a perfect roll off a pick to slam another basket through.
His four points and solid interior defense kept the team afloat early.
Matthews, defense fuel 10-0 run to seize halftime lead
Michigan looked awful from every angle in the first half.
The offense coughed up four turnovers before the second media timeout. Nobody could stop Bronco guard Michael Flowers, who scored nine straight points to bolster the lead to eight (he ended up with 31 on the afternoon).
Most importantly, nobody outside Charles Matthews could hit the broadside of a barn. The Wolverines were 1-for-8 from three and just 5-for-13 from the charity stripe.
Matthews lifted his team out of its malaise, putting back a Simpson miss off a layup. Later, he overcame two earlier whiffs at the free throw line to sink two in a row.
Down 28-24 now, the defense took control. Three steals sparked two fast breaks, including a Matthews flush to tie the game. Lastly, the former Kentucky transfer weaved coast to coast in under five seconds to beat the buzzer before halftime.
An eight-point deficit and an abhorrent first half was no more.
Zavier Simpson takes advantage of sagging defense
John Beilein noted during last Friday’s media availability that he liked Simpson’s shooting stroke. The junior point guard proved him right.
“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.”
He swished two treys to build Michigan’s first double-digit lead of the game. He would continue to punish the sagging Bronco defense.
Jordan Poole and Simpson beat back Bronco comeback
A 14-4 run at the start of the second half gave Michigan a 44-32 lead. A once uncomfortable crowd started breathing sighs of relief. Not so fast.
Behind Flowers’ hot shooting, Western clawed back to a five-point deficit. Beilein and company turned to two options from deep: one familiar and the other not so much.
First, Jordan Poole worked off a Teske screen to rise and fire a three. He achieved his sixth consecutive game in double figures, racking up 14 points on nine shots, including 2-of-3 from behind the arc.
Next, Simpson added another trey from the corner, receiving a kick out from a driving Matthews. He entered the game with just five makes on the year. He left with eight, and is now connecting on 30 percent of his deep makes.
Charles Matthews seals game with a trey
Matthews has a knack for carrying Michigan out of underwhelming outings. When Michigan scuffled against Montana and Florida State in the NCAA Tournament last March, he scored 37 points combined. Other examples include overtime wins over UCLA and Iowa.
Against Western, he did just about everything. He notched 25 points on 13 shots. He hit an uncharacteristic 11 free throws on 16 attempts, well above his 61 percent average. His 10 boards gave him a double-double, and he swiped three steals.
His late three sealed the deal on a closer-than-expected triumph. Simpson, who took advantage of a Matthews kick out earlier, returned the favor with a find after probing into the box.
The eight-point lead with only a minute left was all that was needed.