Ann Arbor — After four consecutive embarrassing losses, the Michigan basketball team finally is in the holiday spirit.
The Wolverines (7-5) snapped a four-game losing streak — their longest since 2011 — with a 72-56 victory over Coppin State on Monday night before a crowd of 11,989 at Crisler Center.
But before anyone gets too excited, Coppin State is 1-10. It lost by 58 points to Illinois, 42 to Oregon and 41 to tiny Hofstra this season. The Eagles' only victory was over Goldey-Beacom. Who? G-B is a Division II school in Wilmington, Del.
But now reality sets in. The Wolverines' next game is their Big Ten opener next Tuesday against visiting Illinois.
Still, despite the expected by beating an overmatched opponent, coach John Beilein was in jovial mood — for now. But you don't have to be a math whiz to know the Wolverines will need at least a 11-7 Big Ten record (18-12 overall) and a decent showing in the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the last seven years.
During their four-game losing streak — three at home to NJIT, Eastern Michigan and SMU — the Wolverines relied a great deal on 3-point shots. But Monday, they swung the ball quickly and went inside a lot in addition to shooting 3's (6-of-14 in the first half and 8-of-26 for the game). They were sharing the ball especially in the first half as witnessed by their 12 assists on 17 first-half field goals. Sophomore guard Derrick Walton's had seven of his nine assists in the first 20 minutes.
U-M started right off concentrating on their inside game. Six of its first nine field goals were layups or dunks and the other three were 3-pointers. The Wolverines finished with 18 assists on 25 baskets.
"We had a lot of empty possessions in our four losses," Beilein said. "We just needed another pass. We emphasized making the extra pass."
U-M set the tone early, jumping to a 21-3 lead. It was 42-26 at halftime and the outcome was never in doubt although it got a little sloppy late in the game.
Freshman forward Ricky Doyle led the Wolverines with a career high 16 points (6-of-7 shooting) and fellow freshman forward Mark Donnal had eight points in 12 minutes. Sophomore guard Zak Irvin had 13 points and a career-high seven rebounds.
U-M junior guard Caris LeVert, who was playing with a wrap on his thumb on his shooting hand, had eight points and eight rebounds and Walton had nine points to go with his nine assists and five rebounds.
"We took some extra time this week looking for spots to pass in and working the ball," Walton said. "We just need to be consistent."
The Wolverines need more production from their inside game and they got it against Coppin State. Doyle and Donnal combined for 24 points (9-of-11 shooting) and seven rebounds.
"We were trying to execute our offense better in practice," Doyle said. "We were cutting hard to the basket and playing smart basketball. That allowed us to get some easy shots inside."
Donnal had started the first 10 games before losing the starting position to Doyle.
"Mark might have found a spot coming off the bench and knocking down some shots," Beilein said.
Freshman guard Austin Hatch, who survived two planes crashes and severe injuries, got a standing ovation when he made a free throw after being fouled on a 3-point shot with 1:03 left. It was his first point of the season.
"We're glad they called the foul," Coppin State coach Michael Grant said. "I was hoping he'd make all three (free throws).
After opening Big Ten play at home against Illinois, the Wolverines play four of their next six games on the road at Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers. The two home games during this stretch is against Minnesota and Northwestern.
"We'll have three good days of practice before Illinois," Beilein said.
Jim Spadafore is a freelance writer.