Michigan sees it has work to do on the boards after victory over Creighton
Ann Arbor — Creighton coach Greg McDermott was concerned with one area heading into his team’s Gavitt Games clash with Michigan — rebounding.
The tallest player in Creighton’s starting lineup was 6-foot-7 forward Christian Bishop and the team's rotation featured only one player who was taller than Bishop in 6-11 center Kelvin Jones.
Yet, the undersized Bluejays ended up winning the battle of the boards, 38-27, and gave the Wolverines something to focus on in practice this week following Tuesday’s 79-69 win at Crisler Center.
"They were being more aggressive in the first half,” said senior center Jon Teske, one of four Wolverines in the team’s rotation who is at least 6-7.
“They came out and they beat us up on the boards. We talked about that halftime and we knew we had to change that. They got 41 points (in the first half). They were getting those second-chance points and we had to cut that water off.”
During one stretch early in the game, Jones pulled down four offensive rebounds in less than a minute, including three on one possession that ended with a putback.
By the time halftime rolled around, Creighton had a 10-0 advantage in offensive boards with 6-foot guard Shereef Mitchell and 6-4 guard Ty-Shone Alexander each grabbing two.
Junior forward Isaiah Livers said it led to plenty of frustration because “it felt like the ball was bouncing their way every time,” while Teske noted the conversation at the break was to go grab the rebounds with two hands instead of one.
While Michigan tightened it up on defense and held Creighton to 28 points over the final 20 minutes, the Bluejays still weren't deterred by the Wolverines' size advantage. They grabbed eight more offensive rebounds in the second half to finish with a whopping total of 18, which resulted in 13 second-chance points, and outscored Michigan 42-32 in the paint.
Some of Creighton’s extra opportunities came off long rebounds from the team's 20 3-point attempts. But others came from Michigan players failing to put a body on a Bluejay when Teske rotated over to challenge shots at the rim, which left him out of position to clean up on the glass.
“We have to crack back and not allow those bigs to run in freely to get offensive rebounds because I'm asking Jon to block shots and alter shots and not allow guys to walk down the lane and score layups,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “The players have to do a better job of covering up for him by blocking guys out on rebounds and not allowing guys to fly in and get extra possessions. But collectively we'll get better at it.”
The Wolverines had their stumbles in late-game execution during the regular-season opener against Appalachian State.
That wasn’t the case against Creighton as Michigan scored on its last four field-goal attempts — all baskets by Teske — before putting the game away at the free-throw line in the final minute.
"We did a much better job,” Teske said. “We know down the stretch a lot of games are going to come down to the last four or five minutes of the game and we've got to execute.
“Coach Howard put us in a lot of great sets and we were getting stops, too, which helped. We struggled a little bit (in the opener), but I think that first game really helped us tonight, to get that first one out of the way and execute better down the stretch.”
According to Howard, the difference was taking better care of the ball late in the game. The Wolverines had 17 turnovers against Appalachian State, with nine of those occurring in the final nine minutes of the game. Against Creighton, Michigan had 11 turnovers and six in the last nine minutes.
“(The 11 turnovers) is still uncharacteristic for us in some of those turnovers that we had,” Howard said. “Coaches, we're never happy with certain areas. We always know there are areas we can get better with. We're perfectionists."
Creighton attempted just two free throws and missed both. It's the first time Michigan has had an opponent finish a game without a made free throw since Wisconsin went 0-for-2 from the line last season.
... Michigan improved to 2-1 in the Gavitt Games and 3-0 all time against Creighton.