New York — After two games, Michigan coach John Beilein was still searching for the best rotation.
He may have discovered it Thursday night.
D.J. Wilson replaced Duncan Robinson at the four in the starting lineup and everything seemed to click as Michigan rolled Marquette, 79-61, in the 2K Classic tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
Michigan (3-0) advances to face SMU — a 76-67 winner over Pittsburgh — in the final at 7 p.m. Friday.
Zak Irvin scored 16 and Mark Donnal and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had 15 apiece to power the Wolverines. Robinson hit his first three 3-point attempts en route to 10 points off the bench, Wilson had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and leading scorer Derrick Walton Jr. was held scoreless in 22 minutes.
“For us to go out and play that well — Marquette is really going to have a good year, despite that I thought they had several open shots that their shooters are not going to miss again,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “That would have made it a much different game and we made some in the first half to sort of get us going.
“It was a good chance for us to play against a good team and we are playing against an even better team with SMU.”
Unlike the first two contests, Michigan’s offense was humming from tipoff as it hit its first five shots to take a 12-8 lead with 16:56 remaining in first half. Moritz Wagner opened the scoring with a layup and 3-pointer, Donnal had two layups and Irvin hit a 3-pointer.
Marquette took its first and only lead when a layup by Luke Fischer (19 points) gave it a 13-12 edge at the 14:02 mark. Then after Haanif Cheatham’s layup tied it at 15, it was all Michigan as it closed out the half on a 35-11 run.
“I think we came out a little amped up,” Irvin said. “Playing in The Garden is a great experience for all of us and we knew it was going to be like a home game for us with all the fans that traveled and came to support us. I think that’s what got us off to the good start we had.”
Donnal hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-0 spurt. Abdur-Rahkman had a hustle play to come up with a steal and three-point play after a bad pass by Wagner to Wilson in the post, and Robinson came off the bench and immediately hit a 3-pointer for a 24-15 advantage with 11:10 left.
After Cheatham split a pair of free throws to make it 28-20, Michigan rattled off a 10 straight points to start to pull away. Irvin drew a foul to put the Wolverines in the bonus with 8:09 left in the half and hit two free throws. Abdur-Rahkman followed with a layup and two free throws, Irvin added a jumper, and Donnal cleaned up a missed layup by Wilson to make it 38-20 with 6:30 left.
Michigan’s lead soon swelled to 20 after two Abdur-Rahkman free throws pushed it to 44-24 at the 4:53 mark.
Ibi Watson knocked down an open mid-range jumper to double up Marquette, 48-24, before Abdur-Rahkman closed out the half with two free throws to give Michigan a 50-26 cushion at halftime.
“I thought (Michigan) played an outstanding game,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I thought they really knocked us back in the first half with how well they were playing, especially on the offensive end.
“We didn’t help ourselves by not doing what we practiced on the defensive end and good teams make you pay when you don’t do your job.”
Michigan kept distancing itself, scoring the first five points of the second half on a Wagner layup and Irvin 3-pointer to grab a 55-26 lead.
Marquette mustered a 7-0 run behind four points from Fischer and a fast-break dunk by Jajuan Johnson (11 points) to make it 55-33 with 17:04 left.
Missed shots and sloppy possessions allowed Marquette to score six straight behind three points from Fischer and a 3-pointer by Markus Howard to trim it to 59-39 with 12:58 left.
Robinson responded with his third 3-pointer and Wagner threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk to extend it to 65-39 at the 10:09 mark, but Marquette rallied with a 16-2 flurry over the next four and a half minutes to cut the deficit to 67-55.
Michigan quelled any notion of a monumental meltdown with an Irvin 3-pointer and a Wilson three-point play to claim a 73-55 advantage with 3:45 remaining.
Wilson hit two free throws and Abdur-Rahkman nailed a jumper to ice it before Beilein emptied the bench with 1:31 left.
“This is really our first test that we've had all season, not being at home going against a team and I think we played really well. We got to keep that going forward,” Irvin said. “Being up 20 or so at halftime is huge for us, but outside of our offensive ability that we had, I was really proud of our defense holding them to 40 percent shooting. That's key for us and we got to keep that going forward.”