Michigan shows off new, aggressive offense in Howard's coaching debut

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan's Isaiah Livers slams home two points in the first half.

Ann Arbor — After months of buildup, Michigan fans finally got their first glimpse of the Juwan Howard-led Wolverines.

Some of it was new. Some of it was familiar.

The Wolverines unveiled their faster-paced offense where they wasted little time getting out in transition and putting up quick shots.

They also struggled to dial it in from 3-point range and slogged through a lengthy offensive drought in the first half, two areas that plagued last season’s team.

Despite the good and the bad, Michigan was able to pull away in the second half for an 82-51 victory in an exhibition against Division II Saginaw Valley State on Friday at Crisler Center.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 82, Saginaw Valley State 51

"I think this boosted our confidence a little bit,” sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. said. “Obviously we have a few things we need to work on.

"We're still getting used to (the offense) a little bit. Sometimes we go a little too fast for ourselves, but that's something that we really want as part of our game is playing fast and being one of those fast-running teams.”

In total, 10 scholarship players saw action for the Wolverines and eight scored at least five points. Michigan’s starting lineup consisted of senior guard Zavier Simpson, junior guard Eli Brooks, sophomore wing Adrien Nunez, junior forward Isaiah Livers and senior center Jon Teske.

Livers had 20 points with 7-for-11 shooting (4-for-8 on 3-pointers) to lead the balanced attack for the Wolverines, which shot 41 percent (25-for-61) from the field and 29 percent (9-for-31) from 3-point range.

Brooks added a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, Johns scored 12 and Simpson notched seven points and 11 assists.

The Wolverines needed less than five minutes to build a double-digit lead and pushed it to 21-8 with 12:03 left in the first half. The good vibes wore off when the dreaded drought hit and Michigan went roughly seven minutes between made field goals, which occurred largely when Saginaw Valley went to a 2-3 zone.

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Saginaw Valley pulled within 31-29 before Michigan closed the half with a 10-0 run in the final 1:49 to take a 12-point lead into the break.

“Offensively we did not do a good job of sharing the basketball. There were like 19 possessions (in the first half) where it was a one-pass shot,” Howard said. “That’s not how we play. We need more ball movement by making the extra pass to our teammates.

“I think our guys were so excited about playing against a different opponent and the ball going in easy for us in the first three minutes of the ballgame, then we hit that drought of coming down and jacking (shots). That's not how we play. I'm big on player ball movement and sharing the game.”

That message apparently sunk in at halftime as the Wolverines opened the second half on a 12-4 run to push the lead to 53-33 with 14:06 remaining.

Saginaw Valley never threatened again and Michigan led by at least 17 points the rest of the way. The Wolverines took their largest lead, 80-45, when redshirt junior center Austin Davis threw down a posterizing left-handed dunk with 2:39 left.

"Saginaw Valley State made a big run, but I love the fact how we adjusted by staying calm and poised,” Howard said. “In the second half we came out and decided we were going to move the ball and we were going to do a better job defensively."

Myles Belyeu scored 20 and Fred John Jr. 12 for Saginaw Valley, which finished last in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division last season.

With the exhibition in the books, Michigan will host Appalachian State in the regular-season opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Here are other observations from Friday’s exhibition win:

► Michigan players said they were going to push the pace and be more aggressive on offense under Howard. They put it on full display with plenty of quick-trigger shots early in the shot clock and outlet passes off Saginaw Valley misses and makes.

There were also several instances when Michigan caught Saginaw Valley’s defense on its heels and attacked before the Cardinals could get set, most notably when Livers threw down a pair of thunderous dunks early in the first half.

Howard said he wants his players to shoot if they’re open and not second-guess themselves regardless of how much time is on the shot clock. But it’s a mindset that requires some rewiring. 

"It's definitely the adjustment of playing — people don't understand Coach (John) Beilein liked quick shots but they had to be wide open,” Livers said. “Coach Howard likes quick shots but smart quick shots. Not a contested shot. I took a lot of contested shots that he wasn't happy with and I made the adjustment in the second half. I think we did a lot better job of being smarter in transition with our shots.”

► Johns, who had been limited in practice with an ankle sprain, didn’t appear to have any restrictions and logged 17 minutes off the bench. He wore a brace to support his right ankle and also showed off his perimeter game by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers.

“It's getting better for sure. It's about 95 percent,” Johns said of his ankle. “There's a little bit of soreness, but it's going to be all right.”

► With freshman Franz Wagner sidelined by a fractured right wrist and not much wing depth on the bench, Michigan used a variety of lineups throughout the contest. For example, sophomore center Colin Castleton and Teske were on the court together for a stint and there were times Livers slid to the three when Johns was in at the four.

Freshman guard Cole Bajema was also the first player off bench when he replaced Nunez in the first half, while Davis didn’t check into the game until there was 6:13 left and Michigan was up by 30.

“Part of it was scripted in the first half," Howard said of the lineup moves and substitutions, "but you still have to read the game and make the adjustment according to how guys are playing, who is playing well for you out there and which guy has sat too long."

► Just like Beilein, Howard benched a player for the rest of the first half after he picked up his second foul. In this instance it was Teske, who was glued to the sideline after he drew his second whistle at the 6:39 mark.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins