Michigan coach talks about his team's turnover-filled first half and overall performance in Saturday's 76-51 win in the nonconference finale. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan closed out 2017 with one final tune-up before switching gears and diving back into Big Ten play.
And it was far from pretty.
The Wolverines fought through a sloppy start to win their fifth straight by topping Jacksonville, 76-51, in the nonconference finale Saturday at Crisler Center.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 20 points for Michigan (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten), which had 10 first-half turnovers and a season-high 14 for the game. Charles Matthews added 18 points and Duncan Robinson scored 12.
"There's never an ugly win, ever,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Those are the ones that you sort of cherish, but I'm surprised that we had been playing so well and I just call it gunk. We had a lot of gunk in us.
“We just didn't have some things going and we played two games in a row that we had played so efficiently it probably was bound to happen. If this was a Big Ten-talented team, we wouldn't have gotten a 'W' whether we were home or away today.”
The Wolverines appeared lethargic from the opening tip and started the game with back-to-back turnovers. They trudged through the first 10 minutes with an array of careless and ineffective offensive possessions, a complete 180 from their past two performances in a 90-58 win over Detroit Mercy and a 97-47 win over Alabama A&M before the holiday break.
“That was unbelievable,” Beilein said. “You probably can't find that stat. We go two times up the floor and walk twice to start a game and they were walks. I don't think I've ever seen it in my life.
“We just started off and that was our first thing, let's get a flow before anybody does anything. All of a sudden, Charles is trying to do something and Moe (Wagner) tries to do something and we get zero points. I think what they learned today is it's not as much fun when you don't play efficiently, you don't score points. But 10 turnovers, my goodness, in the first half. Ten empty opportunities."
However, Jacksonville (5-11), which was without leading scorer Jace Hogan (17.6 points), was even worse. It airballed three of its first six shots, missed a bevy of point-blank layups — including a wide-open dunk — and committed nine first-half fouls.
Michigan eventually snapped out of its holiday slumber by making six of seven field goals, a run that started with a 3-pointer and runner off the glass by Abdur-Rahkman.
During the span, the Wolverines rattled off 10 straight points with a jumper and layup by Matthews and 3-pointers by Robinson and Ibi Watson to take a 26-9 lead with 5:30 left in the half.
Jacksonville managed to cut it to 28-18 at the 2:11 mark after back-to-back layups off turnovers, but Michigan closed the half with a floater by Robinson and two free throws by Jordan Poole to take a 14-point advantage into the break.
“Part of it was us not really keeping it simple in some instances,” Robinson said of the first-half struggles. “The other is we took a couple days off and that should never be an excuse, but we were just trying to get back to being on floor together. Definitely credit them, too. They got up in passing lanes and were active on that end.”
Michigan cleaned up its play in the second half and held Jacksonville in check, with the outcome never being put in serious jeopardy.
Michigan forward talks about his team's performance and capping nonconference play with a 76-51 win on Saturday. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Shortly after Jacksonville trimmed the deficit to 42-30, Michigan scored on eight of its next nine shots to begin pulling away. It started with an 8-0 spurt on layups by Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman and a dunk and layup by Wagner to make it 52-31 with 10:26 remaining.
Then after a missed 3-pointer by Poole, the Wolverines blew the game open with jumpers by Matthews and Isaiah Livers and 3-pointers by Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner to push ahead 64-39 with 6:11 to go.
Poole (10 points) added a pair of 3-pointers and a layup in the final two minutes for good measure for Michigan, which shot a blistering 63.6 percent (19-for-30) from the field in the second half and 56.4 percent (31-for-55) for the game.
"Just keep it simple, get back to how we're normally playing, how we played pretty much this whole season," Robinson said of the message at halftime. "Take care of the ball, hit singles and don't try to hit home runs. I thought we did a little bit better job in the second half but still not good enough."
Wagner, who started after missing the last two games with a right foot injury, was rusty in his return. He finished with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, six rebounds, four turnovers and two blocks in 20 minutes.
After taking advantage of a string of feeble opponents with three straight wins by at least 25 points, Michigan will look to carry it over and keep rolling when it rings in the New Year at Iowa on Jan. 2.
“We all got to go away (for break) and now have to get back on the same page,” Robinson said. “It took at least a half — really a whole game, honestly. I don't think we really played our best, but hopefully we can carry that momentum going into Iowa.”