After the Michigan men’s basketball team survived an upset scare from Oakland on Sunday, senior wing Chaundee Brown had a message for the team.
“Better to learn it now than in the Sweet 16 or Final Four, when it could cost us,” Brown told the Wolverines, according to freshman center Hunter Dickinson.
Michigan struggled for much of its game against the Golden Grizzlies before cobbling together an overtime win. Senior forward Isaiah Livers attributed that to a lack of serious preparation leading up to tip off, which the Wolverines fixed before Wednesday’s 84-65 win over Ball State (0-2).
But after racing out to an early 20-point lead, Michigan (3-0) once again took its foot off the gas pedal. The Cardinals closed the first half on a 19-6 run to pull within seven points before the break.
“We just went out there and weren’t focused on defense,” Dickinson said. “We were giving them easy baskets toward the end. Especially (in) the middle part of that first half, we were really making them work for everything and they were struggling to score. Towards the end, they were starting to get easy buckets and we weren’t really locked in on defense and we let the lead slip a little bit.”
When Michigan coach Juwan Howard entered the halftime locker room to address his team, the Wolverines found themselves at a crossroads of sorts.
The final stages of the first half made it seem as though Michigan would once again go toe-to-toe with a mid-major despite entering as a heavy favorite. But the first stretch of the game — including an 11-0 Wolverines run and 8-0 run — showed Michigan was capable of a blowout.
“The coaching staff, and coach Howard mainly, he comes in and he’s not in there pointing fingers at people,” Livers said. “He’s going to challenge you, yes, but he’s gonna get the whole team together and just rally back out. Just hit them first like in the first half, and we did that when we came out in the second half.”
That’s exactly what Michigan did. The Wolverines opened the second half on an 18-9 run that saw all five starters score — a testament to its veteran leadership. As if a flip had switched, Michigan’s lead was up to 25 points by the nine-minute mark.
“This team is really good at coaching ourselves,” Dickinson said. “Not that (Howard) doesn’t coach us hard. He surely does. There are so many veterans and so much leadership that we can really hold ourselves accountable when we’re not doing stuff right. Our leaders — Eli, Mike, Isaiah, Austin, even Franz — they really hold everybody accountable and hold themselves accountable out there.”
Livers played a major role in helping the Wolverines find an extra gear. He finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and recorded a team-best +18 plus/minus in the second half. With just under 10 minutes to play, he drove baseline for a two-handed flush that put an exclamation point on Michigan’s second-half performance.
By then, the game was out of hand. But there was no misstep, lapse or let-up. The Wolverines learned a valuable lesson from their near-disaster against Oakland, just as Brown suspected.