Ann Arbor — With one of the youngest basketball teams in the nation, Michigan coach John Beilein knew there was going to be plenty of growing pains and learning experiences this season.
But Beilein also knew he was going to need to rely junior Caris LeVert and sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin to take the reins and guide the team.
The trio did just that, combining for 63 points in Michigan's 92-68 win over Hillsdale in its season opener Saturday afternoon at Crisler Center.
Walton set a new career-high with 22 points — surpassing his previous mark of 19 set last year against Michigan State — while Irvin scored 21 in his first career start and LeVert nearly recorded a triple-double with 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Michigan (1-0) fell behind in the early stages of the game as Hillsdale jumped out to a 10-2 lead less than four minutes in, but tied it at 15-15 at the 12:48 mark thanks to a 9-0 run behind 3-pointers from Irvin, LeVert and Walton.
The two teams exchanged baskets and were tied 21-21 at the 9:27 mark until UM rattled off a 29-12 run to close out the first half and take control of the game.
UM used a 5-0 run on a jumper by Kameron Chatman and 3-pointer by Aubrey Dawkins to push its lead to 26-21. Then, Chatman knocked down a pair of free throws to start an 8-0 run that included a Spike Albrecht steal and layup, an Irvin steal and tomahawk jam, and a Walton layup to take its first double-digit lead, 34-24, with 5:41 left in the first.
From that point on, UM used a 6-0 spurt on back-to-back 3-pointers by LeVert and Irvin followed by another 8-0 run led by Irvin, LeVert and Walton to take a comfortable 50-33 cushion into halftime.
"We just upped the pressure and got in some passing lanes," Beilein said of the run. "That was the difference to let us get away or it would've been an eight- or 10-point game. It gave us that separation at halftime."
Hillsdale made things interesting after a 3-pointer by Kyle Cooper capped an 8-0 run early in the second half and cut UM's lead to 59-49 with 14:26 left.
But that was as close as it would get as UM responded with a three-point play by Ricky Doyle, an Irvin 3-pointer and a pair of Walton free throws to make it 67-51 with 11:34 left.
UM's lead was never in serious jeopardy the remainder of the game as it maintained its double-digit advantage, which ballooned to as much as 30 in the final two minutes.
"When you watch Hillsdale it doesn't have a team, it has a program," Beilein said. "They play a great system and just get better and better.
"It was great for our guys to guard really smart players who have a system and learn from it. We'll take it, but that felt like a very close, nip-and-tuck 24-point win."
Hillsdale shot 51.9 percent (14-of-27) in the first half but cooled off in the second, connecting on only 41.9 percent (13-of-31). UM shot 51.7 percent from the field for the game and hit 11-of-19 of its 3-point attempts.
"(Hillsdale) played really well, but defensively we have a lot of interchangeable parts. We were able to withstand their runs and make our own," Walton said.
"We wanted to push the ball a little more...and once guys put more pressure on the ball, we got more steals and did really well in transition."
Cooper finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Stedman Lowry scored 15 for Hillsdale (0-1).
James Hawkins is a freelance writer.