Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 56-37 win over Holy Cross. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein had his defensive plan set for Holy Cross and its Princeton offense.
The only problem was part of it had to go out the window just three minutes into Saturday’s 56-37 win at Crisler Center.
“The only thing we were prepared for is them to play a pick-and-pop five, which they had not traditionally done because No. 30 (Jehyve Floyd) is so good,” Beilein said. “When he got in foul trouble that was the worst thing that could happen to us.”
Floyd, the reigning Patriot League defensive player of the year and an all-league third team selection last season, picked up two fouls by the 17:07 mark and was replaced by forward Connor Niego for the rest of the half.
All Niego did was come in and splash three 3-pointers — two coming during a 13-0 run — to help give Holy Cross its largest lead of the game, 18-9, with 11:24 remaining in the first half.
It led to Beilein calling an audible and rolling with a smaller lineup that featured sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at the five in place of junior big man Jon Teske.
“Thank goodness we had the versatility this year to put Isaiah over to the five,” Beilein said. “If you're going to play small, we'll play small, start switching screens, and when they post up Isaiah, we were tough. We didn't let them get the ball in there and score against us.”
When Livers checked in off the bench at the 12:31 mark, Holy Cross was in the middle of its run and the Crusaders were in the midst of a 7-for-8 shooting stretch.
Yet, Livers’ ability to guard multiple actions helped change the complexion of the game and stymie Holy Cross' attack. When Teske was on the floor, Holy Cross had some success by spreading Michigan out. But with Livers, the Crusaders struggled to get any open looks and they shot just 3-for-10 over the final 11:24 of the half.
“We couldn't stop them at that point because the kid (Niego) was on fire,” said Beilein, who added Livers prepared to play the three, four and five at practice this week.
“We tried to prepare for about everything. I mean, there's 100 things they could do and we probably had 40 or 50 we had either guarded in practice not great, but we had done it. We weren't ready for that so just being able to do that simplified things and we just switched everything.”
While freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews were the top performers with a combined 39 points, Livers’ performance was just as vital and can't be overlooked.
Michigan didn't make a single field goal the final 9:24 of the half, but Holy Cross failed to significantly widen the margin because of the job Livers (seven points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks) did clamping down during what proved to be a key stretch.
“That was big for us because they have five guys who can shoot the ball and attack,” Brazdeikis said. “Isaiah is a big guy, I'm a big guy, Charles is a big guy. We can rebound the ball really well and staying in front of them wasn't an issue at all. Having all five of us rebound the ball and push the ball offensively really slowed them down.”
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
Prior to the game, Michigan held a video tribute for Beilein’s 800th collegiate win that featured messages from Michigan greats (Glen Rice, Phil Hubbard, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose and Cazzie Russell), former players he coached (Tim Hardaway Jr., Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner) and even family (son Patrick).
After the video montage, Beilein wiped a tear away from his eye before receiving a commemorative basketball at midcourt to a standing ovation.
"That was emotional for me. I didn't expect that. I didn't know what was going on,” Beilein said. “I knew that they were going to give me a ball and they said there's a video, too. And then to have all those guys talk, that was really — it got to me a little bit.
“I’m so thankful that they were so nice to do that. It's certainly a great accomplishment for whoever has been around me for those 800, including (wife) Kathleen. To be with us in that is really something. That was well done, I thought. That was pretty neat. I might watch it again one day.”
At halftime, a speed painter also painted a portrait of Beilein along with the number “800” and presented it to him after the game. Beilein said it's the first painting of himself he has received.
“You didn't have to be so hard on the high forehead,” Beilein quipped when he saw it for the first time before his postgame presser. "Let's put that up as soon as we come in the house so she (Kathleen) can look at me every minute."