'We were ready': Michigan mashes Montana in rematch
Des Moines, Iowa — Defense has been the story of Michigan’s season.
The Wolverines merely added the latest chapter on Thursday night.
Thanks to another smothering performance, Michigan shut down Montana in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament first-round game and cruised to a 74-55 win at Wells Fargo Arena.
Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 2 seed Michigan (29-6), which led by double digits for all but 36 seconds over the final 31:16.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis scored 14, junior center Jon Teske 11, sophomore guard Jordan Poole 10 and junior guard Zavier Simpson added four points, seven rebounds and 10 assists.
Michigan advances to face No. 10 Florida, a 70-61 winner over No. 7 Nevada, in the second round on Saturday. Tip-off is 5:15 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS.
"We feel we're a championship-caliber team and our defense is definitely up with the top teams in the nation," Brazdeikis said. "I feel like if we play defense like that with that intensity and we're all connected, I feel like we can win this whole thing."
Sayeed Pridgett had 17 points and Ahmaad Rorie scored 10 for No. 15 Montana (26-9), which was without leading scorer and rebounder Jamar Akoh (knee). The Grizzlies missed 21 of their first 25 shots and shot 33.3 percent (20-for-60) from the field.
Michigan won last year’s meeting, 61-47, after falling behind 10-0, waiting out a clock malfunction and using a stifling second-half defensive effort to pull away.
While the second act didn’t feature a sluggish opening sequence, the Wolverines relied on a similar formula and dug in defensively to open up a 13-point lead 10 minutes into the game.
"It was funny. We were watching the game from last year and we take very film seriously, but the beginning of that game everybody was laughing at the mistakes we were making," Brazdeikis said. "It was a fun time, but we were ready to come out strong and not get punked."
Michigan’s size bothered Montana’s small-ball lineup as the Grizzlies put up one contested shot after another. And even when they moved the ball and did get clean looks — like a fast-break dunk — they couldn’t get them to drop.
While the bricks continued to pile up for Montana, the Wolverines strung together a 10-2 run that was capped by a shot-clock-beating baseline jumper by Matthews to push the margin to 25-8 at the 6:22 mark.
The Grizzlies didn’t reach double digits until the 6:09 mark and didn’t make their first 3-pointer until their 10th attempt with 2:52 left in the half en route to falling into a 34-21 halftime hole.
"I think it's unfortunate we couldn't get the ball in the basket; 27 percent (in first half) is never enough in these types of games and someone has to make shots," Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. "But I credit the Michigan defense. They did what they do. They make it very difficult to get good shots and I thought for a while we were doing the same thing, but then it just kind of snowballed on us a little bit and it got away."
Montana used a nifty drive and finish by Pridgett to pull within 34-26 with 18:33 to go — the first time the deficit was down to single digits since around the 11-minute mark in the first half.
Michigan promptly countered with 10-0 run to effectively put the game out of reach. Poole and Matthews started the spurt with 3-pointers before Teske threw down a hook pass from Simpson to make it 44-26 with 16:12 to go.
The Grizzlies cut it to 14 twice until they hit an eight-minute stretch with one made field goal and could only watch as Michigan’s cushion swelled to 66-39 on a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Isaiah Livers.
"I thought this (Montana) team had more weapons offensively," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "They were a great 3-point shooting team and there is a reason why they ran through the Big Sky and won it. We were fortunate we were able to defend the 3-point game and defend their isolation match-ups.
"Really proud of the whole team and how they bounced back after losing a (Big Ten) championship game late Sunday. They bounced back like champions like they are."
NO. 2 MICHIGAN vs. NO. 10 FLORIDA
Tip-off: 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
Records: Michigan 29-6; Florida 20-15
Next up: Winner faces No. 6 Buffalo, No. 11 Arizona State, No. 3 Texas Tech or No. 14 Northern Kentucky in the Sweet 16