Michigan coach talks about his team's performance and closing out the nonconference schedule with a 74-52 win at Crisler Center. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — If any team is glad December is almost over, it’s probably Michigan.
The Wolverines’ month-long malaise continued Sunday with more lackluster play against more less-than-enticing competition.
And just like it did against some of its other foes this month, No. 2 Michigan needed a second-half spurt to distance itself from Binghamton and close out the nonconference schedule with a 74-52 win at Crisler Center.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis finished with 21 points, sophomore forward Isaiah Livers added 17 points and both helped key a late 19-4 run for Michigan (13-0, 2-0 Big Ten), which outscored Binghamton 28-9 over the final 10:56.
"I told our team going into this thing (Binghamton) didn't have an impressive record, but they had some tough losses. When I watched the Notre Dame (game), I said, 'This team can stay with anybody,'" Michigan coach John Beilein said referencing Binghamton's 69-56 loss at Notre Dame on Dec. 18.
"Any time you've got a really good point guard that can control the tempo, when you got shooters — like they made their four 3s in the first half — you can stay in games. It's the teams that don't have a plan that you can get away from sometimes.
"This team had a great plan: shorten the game, make us make a 15-footer, which we had a dreadful time doing."
Michigan fully expected to face Binghamton's 2-3 zone defense. The crux was the Wolverines couldn't do much of anything in the middle of it, where plenty of open mid-range shots and floaters inside the free-throw line failed to fall.
And it didn't seem to matter who was getting the ball and putting up the shot in that spot over the first 30 minutes, whether it was redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, junior center Jon Teske, Brazdeikis or Livers. Nothing was dropping.
"He said, 'I can't draw anything up here for you guys. You guys got to knock that shot down,'" Livers said of Beilein's message at halftime. "It's a shot we practice every day and we just got to knock it down or try something else that works because obviously some guys just weren't able to hit that shot."
Michigan's struggles to take advantage of the zone's soft spot helped Binghamton (4-10) hang around and pull within 46-43 with 11:49 to play.
That was until the Wolverines managed to ease the sellout crowd’s nerves by mustering a 19-4 spurt over a 6:54 stretch to pull ahead, 65-47, with 4:02 to play.
Livers helped change the flow by changing his approach. Instead of settling for an open 13-footer, he began to take a dribble and attack the rim. The decision helped sparked 11 straight points for Michigan with Livers scoring three consecutive baskets — a layup, a short jumper and a 3-pointer — to make it 57-43 at the 6:31 mark.
"Being a sixth man and coming off the bench, you get to watch the game for a second and see where your shots are, where the open spots are," Livers said. "I just studied it and came in that second half and told Coach B that I can knock that middle shot down if he gives me the chance. I went in and knocked it down."
After Chancellor Barnard converted a three-point play, Brazdeikis put a bow on the nonconference slate with back-to-back 3-pointers and a driving layup for an 18-point bulge.
Barnard finished with 14 points and Tyler Stewart scored 13 for Binghamton, which became the fifth straight opponent to shoot at least 40 percent (20-for-50) from the field against Michigan.
The Wolverines finished 11-for-18 from 3-point range and 19-for-45 from inside the arc, with eight of those 2-point makes coming in the final 11 minutes.
"Believe it or not, the 6-4 kid (Barnard) is one of the top 20 shot blockers in the country, so you take it in there and he affects things, and we weren't really good," Beilein said. "We had wide-open 13-footers that at this level, you can't turn that down to attack the rim. When we did attack the rim, we did it with balance and not floaters in the second half."
Michigan shot over the zone early and made its first three shots — all from 3-point range — in the first 2:09 of the game to make it seem like Sunday was finally going to be a stress-free victory unlike its wins against South Carolina, Western Michigan and Air Force.
It didn’t unfold that way as the Wolverines missed nine straight shots, including seven from around the free-throw line area, and endured a six-minute scoring drought until sophomore guard Jordan Poole (18 points) made one of his career-high six 3-pointers to put Michigan up, 12-11, with 11:50 left in the first half.
Michigan didn't make its first 2-point field goal until the 11:00 mark on a baseline drive and dunk by Livers and took its largest first-half lead, 25-18, with 6:56 left on another Livers dunk.
From that point on, Binghamton kept it a single-digit deficit until Michigan pulled away in the second half to close out a stretch where it played just one game each of the last four weekends.
And with the nonconference schedule now complete, the Wolverines will dive back into Big Ten play with home games against Penn State and Indiana on Thursday and Sunday, respectively, next week.
"I know people would probably say you'd like more nonconference games, games you're going to win by 20 and I don't want them," Beilein said. "We're done with that. We need to play right now and continue this sense of urgency. If you want to win a championship in the Big Ten, we've got to improve."