'Keep on pushing': No. 4 Michigan's stays unbeaten after grounding Air Force
Ann Arbor — Another weeklong break, another slow start.
Michigan's offense struggled to get off the ground against Air Force over the first 30 minutes.
But the No. 4 Wolverines were able to turn it on over the final 10 minutes and use a second-half surge to fly past the Falcons in a 71-50 win Saturday at Crisler Center.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis had 19 points and redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews added 17 for Michigan (12-0, 2-0 Big Ten), which shot 53.1 percent (17-for-32) and scored 43 points in the second half.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers each scored 11 for the Wolverines, who forced 20 turnovers, made 10 3-pointers, recorded nine steals and blocked five shots.
"Air Force presents a lot of problems for us because their style of play is difficult to get ready for," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I think it took awhile for our guys to look at the defense and figure out what it was, even the coaches...They did have two weeks (to prepare) and those guys are all engineers. I knew they could figure out something to trick us a little bit."
After Air Force (4-7) cut the deficit down to five early in the second half, Michigan began to solve the Falcons' defense with a 3-pointer from Poole and a steal and dunk from Brazdeikis to extend its lead to 39-28 with 15:50 to play.
Air Force had some success with its backdoor cuts and managed to slow things down until the Wolverines started to break it open with three 3-pointers within a 91-second span — two from Livers and one from Brazdeikis — to make it 52-37 at the 10:25 mark.
Air Force cut the deficit to 12 twice before Michigan upped the pace, using an 11-2 run with thunderous dunks from Matthews and Livers to go up 68-45 with 3:03 remaining and head into the holiday break on a high.
"They got on that spurt in the second half where we couldn't guard the ball screen coverage and I think they went three or four straight possessions and knocked down a 3," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "We thought the tempo was in our favor early and often to not make it an up-and-down game because I don't think we have the athleticism to play that way. We kept it to a minimal possession game for us.
"The first half was what we wanted and we finished the half well. We started the second half in the same manner and then it kind of broke open."
Lavelle Scottie finished with 16 points and was the lone double-digit scorer for Air Force, which was held to 2-for-11 from 3-point range, attempted 15 fewer shots and had its 20 turnovers turn into 17 points for Michigan.
The Wolverines finished with 11 turnovers but only three came in the second half.
"They were running something different every time we came down," Livers said. "They were in a matchup zone, they were in man. They were keeping us on our toes.
"At halftime Coach B said we had too many turnovers. We were doing too much one-on-one, trying to get to the basket, do our own thing. Once we came out in the second half and played team ball, the 3 balls were falling, we got to the free-throw line and we were getting easy buckets."
Buckets were hard to come by early in the first half. The Wolverines got clean looks from deep against Air Force but couldn’t get anything to drop as they missed eight of their first nine shots.
Yet, Air Force, which took every possession deep into the shot clock, struggled to get anything going against Michigan’s defense. After taking a 10-5 lead with 13:35 left in the first half, the Falcons scored just 11 points the rest of the half.
Michigan recorded 10 straight stops — five turnovers and three blocked shots — to jump-start the offense and rattle off a 19-3 run to take control.
The Wolverines started the spurt with four consecutive baskets in the paint to take their first lead, 11-10, on an alley-oop slam by junior center Jon Teske from sophomore guard Eli Brooks at the 11:21 mark.
Then after Air Force’s Scottie snapped a scoring drought that lasted 5:36, back-to-back 3-pointers from Matthews and Livers made it 24-13 before Michigan went into halftime with a seven-point lead.
"We just had to keep on pushing," Matthews said. "We're not going to hang our heads because we didn't have the first half like we wanted to.
"We come prepared to play against anybody. We don't say we're going to get hype for just a big game and take these people lightly. They've been playing us well and we just haven't been able to make as many shots as we've wanted to, but we're still going to play hard."