It looked like yet another underwhelming performance against an inferior foe.
Michigan trailed 10-5 in the opening minutes Saturday against a sub-.500 Air Force team, starting off 1-for-8 from behind the arc. The passing was crisp, but the shots just weren’t falling.
The Wolverines leaned on a nationally elite defense, stealing passes and blocking shots left and right. It gave the offense time to offer a plethora of big plays in the 71-50 victory.
Teske alley-oop fuels extended first half run
Falcons head coach Dave Pilipovich deployed a 3-2 zone from the start, forcing the Wolverines into several deep shots.
John Beilein adjusted, putting the ball into the hands of his guards to probe the interior and find easy points off cuts to the rim.
Jon Teske rumbled to the rim and finished off an alley-oop, which he does to pretty much everyone. From Purdue to Western Michigan, from North to South Carolina, he makes a healthy living slamming home lobs at the bucket.
It ended up being his only points on the afternoon, as he made his presence known on the other end with two blocks.
Eli Brooks’ first half shift
Eli Brooks has been quietly vital to Michigan’s undefeated start.
He averages double-digit minutes per game, spelling Zavier Simpson enough to maximize the junior point guard’s contributions on defense. Brooks also drained a vital three against Northwestern to retake the lead late.
The Wolverines early scuffles against the Falcons were epitomized by Simpson clanging a three off the back iron early in the shot clock. Beilein noted in the postgame that he needed Brooks to provide some stability.
He did that to the tune of six points, two assists and a recovery block off a backdoor cut. When he returned to the bench, the hosts had seized the lead back for good.
Brazdeikis steal and slam
The teams traded mini-runs to open the second half. Charles Matthews sank two midrange jumpers, while the visitors hit one of their two treys to close within six at 34-28.
Jordan Poole responded with a bomb of his own, but a midcourt steal and dunk by Brazdeikis got the lead back to double-digits.
It also fueled a strong second half for the Canadian freshman, as he finished with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He added five boards, two assists and a block.
Moreover, it signaled a recovery of sorts after Brazdeikis mustered just four points last weekend versus Western Michigan. By leading all scorers Saturday, he’s back to his old ways.
Livers and Poole 3’s put Air Force away
3:53 for Livers, 4:11 for Poole
These two sophomores are inseparable. They constantly appear on the video boards for various goofy quizzes, trying to guess things like who sang “Gangstas Paradise.”
The fact they didn’t know and I did makes me feel so...so old.
They also fueled off each other’s hot shooting, both notching threes to stretch the lead to 15. Both ended the afternoon with 11 points and both shoot 3-of-6 from deep.
Livers, in particular, has surged to 46.3 percent shooting from three on the year, up 13 percentage points from last season. With him, Poole and Brazdeikis on the floor, that makes three shooters who can hit above 38 percent from deep.
Fast break oop to Livers just for fun
Got to admit, it's tough keeping up with all of these @umichbball highlights.— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) December 22, 2018
This @Xaviersimpson3-to-Isaiah Livers alley-oop won't get lost in the shuffle.#BTNStandout x @AutoOwnersIns pic.twitter.com/3nVtGKUYCU
The one basket made inside the arc by Livers was this delicious alley-oop to put Michigan up 68-45.
It’s just a nice play. Enjoy looking at it. No more commentary needed.