Michigan puts together 'complete game,' frustrates North Carolina
Ann Arbor — Michigan was facing an eerily similar situation Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Just like last season against North Carolina, the Wolverines found themselves staring at a double-digit deficit midway through the first half.
This time, No. 7 Michigan flipped the script, roared out of a 10-point hole and hammered No. 11 North Carolina, 84-67, to continue its dominant start with yet another convincing victory at Crisler Center.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis poured in a season-high 24 points — his third straight game scoring at least 20 — for Michigan (7-0), which improved to 8-10 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and ended a two-game losing streak in the event.
Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews added 21 points, including a momentum-killing 3-pointer late in the second half, and sophomore guard Jordan Poole had 18, highlighted by a momentum-shifting 3-pointer before halftime.
"In November we really don't know what to expect," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I've seen some great progression in practice. I've seen us shooting the ball better. I've seen us defensively getting a better understanding for some things.
"We were really fortunate, except for the first five minutes, to really put a complete game together."
After a back-and-forth battle through the first 20 minutes, Michigan blitzed North Carolina with a 19-4 run and began to impose its will in the second half. Brazdeikis got things going with a 3-pointer and junior center Jon Teske threw down two dunks as Michigan started to pull away, 51-39, with 15:48 left.
Then after Matthews threw down a thunderous putback dunk while being fouled — which started a string of seven straight made shots for Michigan — Teske and Matthews emphatically swatted back-to-back North Carolina shots out of bounds as the defense sunk its teeth in, holding the Tar Heels to 2-for-13 shooting over the first 6:20 of the half.
Poole capped the frenzy with a 3-pointer to put Michigan up 63-43 and North Carolina on the verge of being run out of Crisler Center with 12 minutes to go.
But after a Brazdeikis layup gave Michigan its largest lead at 73-51, North Carolina rattled off a 10-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers by Kenny Williams (11 points) to pull within 11 with 5:29 to play.
"I was ready for the good and the bad. I knew they were going to make shots," Matthews said. "They're a great team, a top-25 team. You're not just going to come in here and have a cakewalk. We got to be able to withstand those runs, withstand those punches and we did a good job of that."
Matthews stemmed the tide with a 3-pointer and Brazdeikis effectively ended the threat with four straight points to make it 80-62, helping Michigan pass its first top-20 test of the week with No. 19 Purdue up Saturday in the Big Ten opener.
According to STATS, Michigan is only the second team in the last 20 years to beat the two most recent NCAA champions (Villanova and North Carolina) by double digits in the same season. The only other was Duke in 2014-15, the year it went on to win the national title.
Coby White had 12 points, Luke Maye had 11 points and 15 rebounds and Garrison Brooks scored 10 for North Carolina (6-2), which entered the game averaging 96.6 points per game and shot a season-low 39.4 percent (26-for-66) from the field.
"They played a heck of a lot better than we did. They coached a heck of a lot better than we did," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "I feel like I've done the worst job with this team in 31 years as a head coach, but give Michigan credit. They made tough plays. They shoot 50-something percent in the second half, we shoot 32.
"Very frustrated. The most frustrated I've ever been...They got a chance to hopefully do some great things."
Much like last season's meeting, Michigan and North Carolina went right at one another and traded blows over the first six minutes. Turnovers and transition defense became a momentary issue for the Wolverines as the Tar Heels opened 9-for-13 from the floor and ripped off an 8-0 run to take a 21-11 lead with 12:37 left in the first half.
But Brazdeikis, who could only watch North Carolina’s spurt from the bench due to an early foul, provided a jolt and completely flipped the game. After checking back in, he promptly knocked down an and-1 layup and 3-pointer to ignite a 17-2 flurry that put Michigan on top, 28-23, at the 8:40 mark.
"On the bench I saw we were getting down and I'm like, 'Damn, I need to do whatever I can. I don't care, I'll take my leg off if I have to. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win the game,'" Brazdeikis said. "I feel like we all have that mentality. It's all about winning for us."
North Carolina swung back with an 8-1 run to regain the lead, 33-31, with six points from White as Michigan’s offense sputtered and couldn’t cash in opportunities at the free-throw line while in the bonus.
Despite going over six minutes between made field goals down the stretch, Matthews and Poole buried back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 42 seconds to give the Wolverines a 39-35 halftime lead and momentum they rode to their seventh straight win of at least 17 points.
"We have a lot of prideful guys on this team," Matthews said. "Michigan is known for getting better as the season goes along and we said, 'Man, let's just come out swinging.' If we lose, we lose. Let's come out swinging, let's not hold back and use that as an excuse. No, let's be great from the beginning."