'We needed this': Michigan shows resiliency, holds off Western Michigan
Ann Arbor — On one of the first possessions of the game, Michigan turned the ball over when two Wolverines knocked each other out of bounds while fighting for a rebound.
If anything was a precursor of things to come, that pretty much summed it up.
No. 5 Michigan was out of sync and out of rhythm coming off a weeklong layoff as empty possessions, mental mistakes and missed free throws, layups and open 3-pointers all piled up in a lethargic first half against in-state foe Western Michigan.
The Wolverines were eventually able to do just enough, using a 24-4 run over the first and second halves to flip the game and pull out an ugly 70-62 win Saturday at Crisler Center.
Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews recorded his first double-double of the season with 25 points and 10 rebounds, keyed the game-changing spurt and came through with big shots down the stretch for Michigan (11-0, 2-0 Big Ten), which finished 15-for-25 on free throws and had as many turnovers (eight) as assists.
Junior guard Zavier Simpson added 15 points (3-for-4 from 3-point range), sophomore guard Jordan Poole had 14 and both scored in the final 39 seconds to help put the game away.
"They put up a heck of a battle," said Matthews, who went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half and finished 11-for-16. "They came in here and put up a fight.
"They didn't back down from us. They didn't care what environment they were coming in or who we were. They stuck to who they are and it showed. We got to be better from here on out."
After closing out the first half with a 10-0 flurry, Michigan picked up where it left off in the second half. The Wolverines scored nine straight points with 3-pointers from Poole and Simpson to kick-start a 14-2 run.
Simpson buried another deep ball and Matthews, who had five points during the spurt, capped it with a layup to give Michigan its largest lead, 44-32, with 14:46 to play.
Western Michigan (5-5) didn’t go away quietly. The Broncos responded with an 8-1 run to cut the deficit to 45-40 at the 12:53 mark.
And every time it looked like Michigan was going to pull away — like when Simpson hit a 3-pointer to make it 55-45 with 8:05 remaining — Western Michigan found a way to hang around.
The Broncos pulled within five points four times in the final 4:18, but the Wolverines answered each time. Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and Poole each came through with a basket before Matthews knocked down two critical free throws at the 2:41 mark and a huge 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to make it an eight-point game.
That ended up being enough as Poole made two free throws and Simpson followed with a fast-break layup off a steal in the final 39 seconds to seal it.
"This is why we needed this. We needed to have adversity in a game to realize you've got to fight through those things," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "You can't hang your head. You've got to be positive during that time.
"We had some unique things happen in that game that certainly you're not going to win games in the Big Ten if you play like that. We've got to understand that you've got to play on and play through it and that's what was important."
Michael Flowers (Southfield) kept the Broncos in the game by scoring a career-high 31 on 9-for-16 shooting. Jared Printy added 10 points and made three 3-pointers for Western Michigan, which committed 16 turnovers that led to 20 Michigan points.
"We wanted to come in here and compete against what is a heck of a basketball team in Michigan and we did," Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. "I was proud of the guys and I think it really came down to the turnover part of things. Our No. 1 key coming into the game was to try and stay away from the live-ball turnovers and they got 20 points off of our turnovers to our eight.
"That really keyed the end of that first half there. That's what also got them going. All the credit in the world to them. They're a great defensive team. They were just a little too much for us today."
Unlike the second half, Western Michigan was in control for most of the first half. It punched Michigan in the mouth early, led 11-5 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Printy at the 13:57 mark and did something no team has been able to do at Crisler Center this season — maintain the lead the majority of opening 20 minutes.
Michigan managed to pull even at 17 thanks to Matthews, who carried the team in both halves. He hit a 3-pointer, snapping Michigan's 0-for-6 start from beyond the arc, and a split pair of free throws with 6:23 left in the half.
Western Michigan countered as Flowers began to heat up and take over the game. He scored 11 straight on an array of acrobatic baskets to put the Broncos back on top, 28-20, at the 2:58 mark.
The Wolverines battled through and turned their defense into offense, stringing together stops to fuel a 10-0 run over the final 2:21. Matthews sparked the spurt with eight points, highlighted by a coast-to-coast layup that beat the buzzer and gave Michigan a 30-28 lead that it wouldn't let go of to survive in a game where it was far from its best.
"Credit Western Michigan, but we really had a bad first half. There were some points in the second half that weren't so good either...but the first half is one of those things you just say, 'There's no sense in getting mad right now. I can't control what's happening out there,'" Beilein said. "Our kids need composure. They have not been in this situation where you're supposed to be good and you're just going to win easy.
"I thought we needed to get through something like that to get a 'W.' I'm not talking about winning at Northwestern where it's another Big Ten game. I'm talking about when things aren't going well and you're about to get upset, you've got to have some resiliency and I love what we saw from our team today."