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Michigan finishes non-conference play undefeated with win over Binghamton

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The Wolverines closed out 2018 with their 13th win of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Binghamton at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, Michigan struggled in the first half against a vastly inferior team, only to pull ahead late in the game. The story is becoming a little too familiar, with 20-point victories masking troubles earlier in the contest, but the resume stays clean for the Wolverines heading into Big Ten play.

Binghamton put up a fight, keeping the score close through the first 30 minutes. Much of this was due to poor Wolverine shooting, but the final stretch featured an onslaught of baskets that simply would not fall earlier.

After the 74-52 victory Sunday, Michigan (13-0) finishes 2018 and non-conference play undefeated and will quickly enter the gauntlet that is conference play, which begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in Ann Arbor against Penn State. While the last four outings have featured plenty of question marks, all of them did end up with a W.

Next man up

It seemed like everyone was having their share of struggles Sunday, leaving the opportunity for someone to step up. That opportunity was seized by sixth man Isaiah Livers, who posted a career-high 17 points, while adding five rebounds and three assists. While his teammates struggled all over the floor, Livers hit 80 percent of his shots and took charge down the stretch when others could not.

The usual suspects contributed as well, with Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole scoring 21 and 18 points, respectively. Poole continues to be unconscious from three, hitting six (!) more on the day to boost his long-range accuracy to 59.6 percent since Thanksgiving. For Brazdeikis, it becomes the fifth time in his career with at least 20 points. Both players are trending up heading into the new year.

Issues down low

Typically it has been the three-point shot weighing down Michigan’s accuracy this season, but against the Bearcats the Maize and Blue recorded a 61.1 percent mark. Instead, it was two-point field goal attempts causing the most problems, with a 47.6 percent rate sitting in the bottom five of all performances this season. This number was even buoyed by an 8-for-15 stretch to end the game.

The aggressiveness was a good sign; attacking the rim has not always been a staple of the Michigan offense. However, the finishing must improve, especially in Big Ten play. It was an especially painful game for Charles Matthews who went just 3-for-12 inside the arc, missing plenty of easy looks. Jon Teske also looked unusually poor, hitting just 33 percent of his shots in the paint.

Moving the ball

Even though many shots were not falling, the Wolverines still tallied 23 assists on 30 baskets. Most of these came from point guard Zavier Simpson, who almost had a double-double with nine rebounds and 10 assists to go with only one field goal attempt.

Six other players had at least one assist as well, and the Wolverines’ success behind the arc was certainly helped by all of the passing. As always, Michigan took care of the ball, turning it over just eight times on the afternoon.