Freshman forward talks about his 19-point performance and what changed for Michigan in the second half of Saturday's 56-37 win. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The biggest concern for Michigan entering the season was its shooting.
The first half of Saturday night’s game against Holy Cross did little to ease any of those worries.
But No. 19 Michigan was able to shake a woeful start thanks to a second-half outburst by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and another sound defensive effort in a 56-37 win at Crisler Center.
Brazdeikis finished with 19 points, with 15 coming in the first 4:49 of the second half, and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews scored 20 for Michigan (2-0), which shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24) in the first half and 50 percent (13-for-26) in the second.
"I knew coming out of the half we needed a play, we needed to get it going, we need to get the crowd going," Brazdeikis said. "It was a slow game. We needed to get to the line, we need to attack and with that mentality it really helped out this game."
Michigan’s offense began to find a rhythm when it scored on its first eight second-half possessions thanks in large part to Brazdeikis, who was able to get downhill and heat up in a hurry.
Brazdeikis opened the half with a driving layup before splashing a 3-pointer and knocking down two free throws to get into a groove. Then after junior center Jon Teske split a pair of free throws — which started a 23-2 run that would last over 10 minutes — Brazdeikis made a floater to tie it at 30 and two more free throws to give Michigan a 32-30 edge with 16:43 to play.
Brazdeikis continued to attack the rim and provide a needed spark, burying a jumper and two more free throws as Michigan rattled off 15 straight points to pull ahead 42-30 with 11:05 to go.
"I felt like in the first half we were more hesitant, we weren't aggressive enough," Brazdeikis said. "They were playing a matchup zone, so I knew there was going to be places and spots where you could attack and make plays, and I was just really focused on being aggressive, making plays and it worked out."
Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 56-37 win over Holy Cross. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Matthews helped close the game-turning spurt with a pair of jumpers and two free throws to give the Wolverines a 50-32 advantage with 7:08 to go.
That proved to be enough cushion as Michigan led by double digits the rest of the way and limited Holy Cross (1-1) to just 13 points on 20 percent shooting (6-for-30) in the second half.
"We really changed what we were doing offensively. We were probably trying to do too much, trying to create leverage," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We just really simplified our attack in the second half and just tried to go off penetration. We weren't outsmarting them. We had to go with some speed, some quickness and certainly Iggy got us off to a great start."
The first half, though, was far from great. After the teams combined to miss the first nine shots from the field, Holy Cross ripped off a 13-0 run to take an 18-9 lead with 11:24 left in the first half. The Crusaders' Princeton offense, which relies on constant movement and cuts, left Michigan defenders scrambling as ball movement produced an array of open looks and led to five consecutive made shots, including three 3-pointers.
Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, struggled to dial in against Holy Cross’ zone. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole ended the run with a floater in the lane at the 11:00 mark to start a 7-0 spurt, pulling Michigan within 18-16 with 7:20 left in the half.
But the Wolverines’ shooting struggles crept back up. They failed to make a field goal in the final 9:24 of the half and missed nine consecutive shot attempts down the stretch that resulted in a 24-18 halftime deficit.
“I know we can get a little crazy, we can make turnovers every now and then, but against teams like that, that play these funky zones against us, we’ve just got to attack them," Matthews said. "Sometimes I feel we're indecisive looking for the right time to score, the right shot to take. We missed the shots because we're thinking, 'Is this is the time to shoot it?' When we just hoop, we're a different dynamic."
Here are some other observations from Saturday’s win:
►Michigan rolled out the same starting lineup it used in its exhibition against Northwood and season-opener against Norfolk State, with junior guard Zavier Simpson, Poole, Matthews, Brazdeikis and Teske.
►Despite Michigan’s first-half shooting woes, its defense kept Holy Cross from pulling away, particularly when the Wolverines went with a small-ball lineup with Isaiah Livers at the five. After taking an 18-9 lead at the 11:24 mark, Holy Cross shot just 3-for-10 from the field and scored only six points the rest of the half.
►Michigan shot 81 percent (17-for-21) from the free-throw line, a marked improvement from 44.8 percent (13-for-29) it shot in the regular-season opener against Norfolk State. Teske and Matthews were the biggest culprits in the opener, going a combined 3-for-11 on free throws, but bounced back and went 5-for-7.
►Michigan's 3-point shooting continues to be a work in progress. The Wolverines shot 15.8 percent (3-for-19) from beyond the arc, with Brazdeikis (1-for-2) and Matthews (2-for-6) accounting for the only makes. Teske, Poole, Simpson, Livers and Eli Brooks combined to go 0-for-11.