Ann Arbor — It was supposed to be a celebratory night full of good times and vibes for Michigan.
But for over 30 minutes in Saturday night's regular-season opener, it appeared North Florida might crash the party.
Michigan had to overcome a shaky start and use a second-half surge to knock off North Florida, 86-66, at Crisler Center on a night when last season's Big Ten Tournament championship banner was raised and title rings were handed out.
Duncan Robinson finished with 21 points and made several key plays down the stretch, while Charles Matthews scored 20 and Moritz Wagner recorded his second career double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Wolverines (1-0), who forced 24 total turnovers.
“I think we came out a little surprised and not ready to play,” Wagner said. “We're also a very young team. I looked out there and was like, 'Wow, these guys have never been out there before.' We're all in new roles, so it's supposed to be like that and it's a good wake-up call."
Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 86-66 win in the regular-season opener. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
After North Florida (0-2) trailed by two at halftime, despite 14 first-half turnovers, Michigan appeared to be on the cusp of breaking it open early in the second half. Wagner helped powered a 10-5 run with three baskets to give the Wolverines a 42-35 advantage with 15:58 to play.
But just like the first 20 minutes of the game, Michigan’s offense went stagnant for a stretch and North Florida found an answer in the form of a 7-0 flurry to jump back on top, 47-46, with 12:49 remaining.
Robinson snapped a nearly four-minute drought with a 3-pointer as Michigan reclaimed the lead. However, North Florida continued to hang around and used an Osborn Blount jumper to pull within 52-51 at the 9:36 mark.
From that point on, the empty possessions piled up for North Florida and the Wolverines picked up the tempo, blowing it open with a 21-2 game-sealing run to take a commanding 73-53 lead with 4:29 remaining. Robinson came up huge during the spurt with a 3-pointer, coast-to-coast layup and dunk in transition before Zavier Simpson drilled a 3-pointer and Wagner stamped it with a three-point play.
Another three-point play by Wagner gave Michigan an 81-59 cushion with 2:32 left and North Florida trailed by at least 19 points the rest of the way.
“Get stops, gang rebound and get out. That was a big emphasis at halftime and I think we did a pretty good job,” Robinson said. “That was one of the things that really sparked our run. We've got to acknowledge that and do a better job of it moving forward.”
Michigan center talks about his improved play in the second half of Saturday night's 86-66 win. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Pesky North Florida gave Michigan problems from the beginning. After Michigan’s offense ground to a halt and struggled against its 2-3 zone in the early stages, North Florida promptly took advantage and rattled off a 14-2 run to knock the Wolverines in the mouth and take a 16-9 lead with 11:20 left in the first half.
Michigan countered with nine straight points on a two-handed dunk from Jon Teske, two free throws from Jaaron Simmons, a steal and layup by Eli Brooks and three-point play by Robinson to regain a 20-18 edge at the 6:35 mark.
But North Florida wouldn’t go away. It scored five straight over the next two minutes to claim a four-point advantage before the Wolverines closed the half on a 10-4 run — highlighted by an eight-point flurry on a Matthews jumper and 3-pointers by Robinson and Ibi Watson — to take a slim 32-30 lead into the break.
It was the type of drag-it-out affair Michigan coach John Beilein was wary of after watching North Florida fall to No. 2 Michigan State, 98-66, on Friday night.
“I felt this team can give us really serious problems,” Beilein said. “They did a great job with their zone. The first half we did not play well. I thought we were a little anxious and then second half once we settled down — to score 86 points after the start we had was a heck of a second half. We can watch film now and we'll get better.”