The Michigan Wolverines played their first game in almost two weeks on Friday in a Christmas Day win over Nebraska by a score of 80-69. In a lot of ways, the game was what it was expected to be with the Wolverines having to bust out of a 12-day layoff while also juggling the first road game of the season.
While not ideal to go that long without a game and then have to play on Christmas, it was the challenge that the schedule had created for them and they simply had to plan around it. Head coach Juwan Howard was happy with how his team carried itself.
“I’m impressed with how our group handled themselves during that stretch. And it’s not easy,” Howard said. “Sometimes your mind can get lost on what is important. Our guys despite what we’ve been facing with this pandemic... they’ve been able to win each day by sacrificing for the season and then the preparation during those days off, on how we handle those days. They came in each and every day and worked hard. We had to fine-tune some things, keep getting better and better with our habits. That was impressive and then to come out and play after a long layoff. I wasn’t worried about the first half. Nebraska’s a good team and they have a well-coached group. And so in the second half, we just did a better job defensively because, in the first half, everybody wants to talk about the shots Teddy made from the perimeter but our defense had a letdown by allowing a lot of paint points with 22. Once we made the adjustment and buckled down defensively in the second half, they finished with eight paint points.”
There can be a fatigue that comes with playing a lot of games with no break, but there also is an argument that there can be a mental fatigue that comes with sitting around and waiting. Sophomore Franz Wagner did not feel that over the last 12 days.
“No, I don’t think so at least,” Wagner said. “I think you’re a little bit more well-rested I think, coming off a long break. Not just physically but mentally (you) can kinda take a break from everything. Maybe a little rhythm, stuff like that, but I thought we handled it pretty well.”
Hunter Dickinson, who had another strong performance with 13 points and 15 rebounds, said the Christmas playing experience was made better by a victory in a different venue than the first six games.
“For sure. We got another three days off, it’s always good to go on the plane with a win and then have three days off,” Dickinson said. “I think it’d be a good thing for us to show we can win not only at home but also away, in other arenas and then to get a Big Ten win is also good.”
Next up for Michigan is a showdown with Maryland on New Years Eve on the road.