Michigan basketball finally played the first game of the Juwan Howard era and boy, was it..interesting(?). The Wolverines roared out to a big lead in the first half, but Appalachian State made it scary close late. The good news for the Wolverines is they were able to hold them off and get the win by a score of 79-71.
Eli Brooks led the team with a career-high 24 points on the night. Jon Teske had his first double-double of the year (which he achieved with six minutes to go in the first half) and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
The Vegas line had the Wolverines favored by 16.5 points, and for much of the night, they outshined and outplayed what the projections expected of them. And then all hell broke loose.
Michigan went into the locker room at halftime with a 46-25 lead while shooting 54.5 percent (18-for-33) from the floor and 45.5 percent from three (5-for-11). Turnovers were a bit of a problem for the Wolverines, having given up the basketball seven times in the first 20 minutes of play. The largest lead of the half was 23 points.
With Teske as the star of the first half, a different one emerged as the teams came out of the locker room for the second half. Brooks had 16 of his 24 points in the second half while riding some hot shooting. His previous career-high was nine points, which he surpassed with his first made shot on the second 20 minutes of play.
However, Appalachian State made this one frighteningly close, getting the lead down to six points at 70-64 with just under two minutes to play while riding a 30-5 run. Isaiah Livers put the Wolverines back up eight, but the Mountaineers hit a three to get the deficit to within five points at 72-67 with 38 seconds to play. App State got the deficit down to four before the Wolverines closed things out on the free throw line and captured the 79-71 victory.
- The Wolverines started the game with the same lineup that they trotted out for the exhibition game last Friday night with Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks and Adrian Nunez at guard, Isaiah Livers at forward and Jon Teske at center. Howard went with an eight-man rotation on the evening with those five guys, along with guard David DeJulius and bigs Colin Castleton and Brandon Johns. Freshman Cole Bajema did not play, but would have been that ninth guy off the bench.
- Teske was at the center of the action all night long and with his 15 points and 11 rebounds in the first half hit double-double marks that he only did twice last season. Howard loves to use his bigs, so it will be interesting to see if the offense runs through him (at least more than it ever has) and it opening up everything else.
- Brooks was terrific in the opener and we saw more of what Howard and members of the team have said in terms of his confidence being back. He has had a hard time finding his offensive stroke at Michigan, but in the exhibition and now the season opener, the confidence and want-to has been there, which is incredibly encouraging. This is going to be big for Michigan as they try to offset the loss of Franz Wagner early in the season. What we’ve seen from Brooks (and even Nunez) are a pair of players that are trusted by Howard and empowered to shoot when the opportunities present themselves.
- Isaiah Livers was up and down throughout the night, even in taking a back seat to a pair of other standout performances ahead of him on Tuesday night. He played every single minute of the first half and 31 minutes on the night, finishing with 14 points. However, he did have five turnovers.
- The film review and box score will not be kind to Zavier Simpson after this game. He finished with six points (2-for-8 shooting), eight rebounds, six assists and six turnovers. His performance in the second half only compounded the issues that allowed App State to get back into the game. As a senior leader, he has to be better than that and be a calming presence when things get tight. He was not able to do that for much of the game on Tuesday night, but did have a few key sequences late that helped the Wolverines ice the game. He has the be that guy.
- If Livers and Simpson are going to set the tone for this team, they have to be much better than they were on Tuesday as a collective. Combined, the two were 8-for-19 from the floor (2-for-7 from three), seven personal fouls and 11 turnovers. The Wolverines had 17 turnovers on the night. That has to be better.
- The Wolverines went on a scoring draught and strung together some defensive lapses at the worst possible time in this game. Nobody was sure who the heck was going to step up and be the solution when things got tight and it led to issues on both ends of the court. Closing out games is now something that is going to be a huge question mark heading into the next time that it happens and the way Howard’s team responded to adversity throughout much of this game was not encouraging. As a first year coach with an inexperienced team in a new system, there are going to be lapses. We will see how they come out and respond the next time out.
- David DeJulius played 29 minutes on Tuesday’s game, but was 0-for-3 from the floor. Howard and company are still confident about what he brings to the table, but we have not seen what some of the preseason performances suggested he might be bringing to the table this year. Not a big deal just yet, as the staff still trusts him and it’s way too early, but notable nonetheless.
- You still see the youth on this team, and it’s going to take some time for them to fully click and develop. The four sophomores (Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns, DeJulius, Adrien Nunez) are going to be the guys who might make or break how good this team winds up being. Castleton had the best performance of the night with eight points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
- Howard said after the game that the reason that things got tight in the second half was due to the team losing its mental focus after shots stopped falling, which then started to affect them on the defensive end of the floor. App State had started to mix in some different looks defensively, including throwing out a 3-2 zone at the Wolverines. Being that Howard is coming from the NBA where little to no zone is run, he has been up front about needing reps for himself to learn how to break some of these defensive looks other teams are throwing at them.
- Tuesday was an example of the highs and lows that this team is going to go through throughout the course of this season with a new voice leading them and new responsibilities, mixed with youth and inexperience. Howard doesn’t quite have that magic touch with calming timeouts that John Beilein had just yet, so they will continue to work through this and develop together. This is why it is so crucial for patience. The theme of this year is going to be what happens the next time adversity hits, so we will see what Howard and his staff are able to come up with the next time Michigan is in a tight spot.
Next up for the Wolverines is a home date set for Nov. 12 at home against Creighton. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.