Davis proves to be right call for Beilein in Michigan victory

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Western Michigan forward Kawanise Wilkins (11) and Western Michigan guard Josh Davis (3) defend a shot by Michigan forward Ignas Brazdeikis (13) In the first half.

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein found himself going back and forth.

When it came to who was going to play backup center against Western Michigan, should it be freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. or redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis?

Beilein ended up going with Davis and the decision paid off as the big man provided some key first-half relief in Saturday’s 70-62 win at Crisler Center.

“I really was going into this game, Brandon, Austin, Brandon, Austin, both of them had been about the same in practice,” Beilein said. “But seeing the size of Seth Dugan, that was a better matchup for us today. Had it been a smaller center that was giving us issues, it probably would've been Brandon that we would've went with.”

Dugan (7-foot, 240 pounds) had been a handful for opposing teams to contain this season and entered the matchup as one of only 17 players in the nation averaging a double-double (17.7 points and 10.1 rebounds).

Dugan got the better of junior center Jon Teske at the start of the game, scoring Western Michigan’s first five points and drawing a foul on Teske at the 16:41 mark. That led to a quick hook for Teske and some crucial early minutes for Davis, who has had his shortcomings providing dependable depth as the backup center.

But Saturday was a different story in what turned out to be one of Davis’ most effective stints this year.

During Michigan’s second defensive possession with Davis on the court, he didn’t give an inch to Dugan in the post and helped force a turnover on a shot clock violation.

Then when Michigan’s offense was struggling to get into any semblance of a rhythm, Davis scored two baskets a minute apart to cut a six-point deficit in half before he checked out at the 11:37 mark.

After Teske picked up his second foul with 8:09 left in the half, Beilein elected to go to his small ball lineup with sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at the five. But when Livers came out down the stretch, it was Davis who was on the floor for the momentum-shifting 10-0 run that closed the forgettable half.

And Davis just didn't stand around and watch during the spurt. He chipped in by corralling a loose ball and throwing an overhead outlet pass to junior guard Zavier Simpson for a fast-break layup that helped propel Michigan to a 30-28 lead at the break.

“Austin came in and gave really good minutes, especially when Jon picked up his second foul,” sophomore guard Jordan Poole said. “He was able to come in, get us a couple buckets and defend for a little bit…That was definitely huge and a big help.”

Davis finished with four points and an assist in nine minutes of action and helped hold Dugan below his season averages with seven points (3-for-8 shooting) and eight rebounds.

Davis also posted a plus-3 plus-minus rating, his first positive mark since the win over Chattanooga five games ago.

“These guys just continue to work their tails off,” redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews said. “We have so many people on the bench that nobody knows, that doesn't get any accolades, but any night their opportunity can come and they can really help this team.”

Long breaks

Beilein said there were times he was envious of football because of the amount of time teams would get to prepare between each game.

But after dealing with the first of three weeklong layoffs as Michigan closes out its nonconference this month, he changed his tune.

“What I discovered this week is that's not a very comfortable rhythm for basketball players to play once a week,” Beilein said. “I felt that was hard and I try to gauge it so we get rested then go into a normal two-day prep. But it's not as perfect and now we got another one and we got an eight-day layoff. But other teams have it, every college is taking exams and you got to do that."

Michigan will host Air Force on Dec. 22 and Binghamton on Dec. 30 before Big Ten play — and a more normal schedule — picks back up after the New Year.

“It's definitely different (playing once a week), especially going from game to game to game, you catch a rhythm,” Poole said. “I personally don't like it, but I feel like we're going to have to find a way to get over it, keep practicing and find a way to get another (win).”

Slam dunks

After Western Michigan guard Michael Flowers (Southfield) set a career high with 31 points, coach Steve Hawkins was asked if he came into the game with a chip on his shoulder.

"He kind of wakes up with a chip. We don't like to say chip in Kalamazoo a lot by the way, but he's a confident kid," Hawkins said with a reference to rival Central Michigan. "He's not scared of the moment and I like having guys like that on our side."

... After Michigan held its first eight opponents to under 40 percent shooting, Western Michigan (21-for-46, 45.7 percent) became the third straight foe to shoot at least 45 percent from the field.

"That's three games in a row we have not been pleased with our defense," Beilein said.

... Dating back to last season, the Wolverines have won 13 straight at home and 22 of their past 23 games at Crisler Center.

... Michigan is one of nine unbeaten teams remaining in the nation.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins