Wolverines tidy up on turnovers after Beilein lowers the boom
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein's halftime speech focused on one topic: turnovers.
For a team that's one of the best in the nation at taking care of the ball, the No. 4 Wolverines uncharacteristically turned it over eight times in the first half against Air Force.
But Michigan cleaned up its act in the second half to help turn a closer-than-expected contest into a rout in Saturday's 71-50 win at Crisler Center.
"I told our kids we had eight turnovers in the first half. So if you want to score 28, which would be 56 points a game, then turn it over," Beilein said. "We turned it over three times in the second half and we scored (43) points. You want to score 90 points a game? Don't turn it over. And that's sort of what happened."
Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews had a slightly different version of what was said.
"Coach B yelled at us," Matthews said with a grin. "He tells us to stop turning the ball over and we do what he says."
Regardless, the point was driven home and the message was received.
Nearly half of Air Force's first-half production came off Michigan's miscues. The Falcons scored 10 points off the Wolverines' eight turnovers to stay close and trail 28-21 at halftime.
But in the second half, Michigan's three turnovers only led to two points as Air Force was outscored 43-29 in the frame.
And even though Michigan is in the middle of playing three games in a three-week stretch, Beilein said the six-day break played no part in the shaky ball protection.
"We're still sloppy in some areas and we're going to continue to clean it up," he said. "We had all these fast-break (opportunities) and we didn't get it. We had a couple charges and our hunters every now and then just hunt and don't see. And then next play it's like, 'Who is that guy? He's really good seeing the extra man.' It's a process we're going through and I enjoy teaching that process."
On the flip side, Air Force entered the contest as one of the country's most turnover-prone teams at 15.8 per game, which tied for 309th in the nation. And according to Beilein, taking away the 3-point shot and turning the Falcons over was the focus of Michigan's game plan.
The 20 turnovers tied for Air Force's second-highest total this season and were the second-most Michigan has forced, trailing only the 21 at Villanova.
More importantly, they led to 17 Michigan points, with four coming early in the second half as the Wolverines slowly pulled away following a steal and reverse dunk by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis that made it an 11-point game.
"A lot of it was Michigan, their size and length and speed," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "Some of them were unforced on our part — a minimal amount — but we can't live on a live ball with anybody. We can't have a live ball turnover where you fall down and toss it away. They're going to run out and dunk on the other end.
"We can take a shot clock violation because that sets our defense up. They're a really good defensive team. (Beilein) is such a good coach and has always been known offensively for what he does, but the last couple years they've been really good defensively and do a lot of things that take you out of your plan."
'Just a taste'
After not playing in three straight games, freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. received his first action midway through the first half.
It didn't go so well.
Johns came in at the 8:04 mark for junior center Jon Teske and on the first defensive possession, Air Force threw a bounce pass past Johns for an open dunk.
Then on Air Force's next possession, Johns fouled Ryan Swan on a 3-point shot, which earned him a quick yank at the 7:16 mark.
According to Beilein, Johns was better suited to defend Air Force's driving style and action than redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis, who struggled with it in practice and never checked into the game.
"We didn't play (Johns) against Seth Dugan for Western Michigan. It was a bad matchup," Beilein said. "This was a little bit different. They were going to drive the five man a lot so we felt he could do that. The guy is 6-7, he's 6-8. He can guard that better.
"But right away they picked on him. They run that play like twice a game and I don't know if they did it on purpose, but they ran it right at the freshman and he got lost. It's just a taste of what they're going to see when they go in a game. They'll pick on freshmen at different times."
Johns didn't enter the game again until the closing minutes when Michigan was up by 23. But with a backup center spot still up for grabs, the first-half stint was a wasted opportunity to help his case.
Air Force's coaching staff was full of Michigan ties. Pilipovich was on Tommy Amaker's staff from 2005-07 and was briefly on Beilein's staff when he took over before accepting an assistant coaching job with the Falcons.
Air Force associate head coach Andrew Moore was also an assistant at Michigan from 2002-07 and assistant coach Nate Zandt was a student assistant for five seasons from 2001-06.
"Oh my God. We didn't have this," Pilipovich said of the Crisler Center media room when asked how much the program has changed since he left. "Look at this place. You've got elevators, you've got heat. The ceiling is not leaking.
"This is great. It's neat to see. This is one of the best facilities in the country. This university deserves it, this community deserves it and that staff deserves it. Not only are they one of the best of all the facilities around here in the Big Ten, but they're one of the top in the nation and I'm excited to see that. But it has changed quite a bit."
…Saturday marked just the second time Air Force played a men's college basketball game in the state of Michigan. The program's only trip to the mitten was a 71-69 win at Northern Michigan in 1969.
…Dating back to last season, Michigan has won 26 of its past 27 games at Crisler Center.
…Michigan is one of five unbeaten teams left in the nation.