'We were stagnant': Michigan shakes off slow start, pulls away from Elon
Ann Arbor — Michigan has had its share of sluggish stretches through the first couple weeks of the season.
The Wolverines nearly squandered a 30-point second-half lead to Appalachian State in the opener.
They stumbled over the final six minutes of the first half against an undersized Creighton squad.
And against Elon, Michigan plodded through a lackadaisical opening 10 minutes before pulling away for a 70-50 win Friday at Crisler Center.
“Elon is better than what they get credit for. Last game they played against Georgia Tech (a 64-41 loss) and it wasn't an easy game for them,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I don't think we're ever going to have an easy game. I didn't consider Elon to be an easy game.
“We don't look at our opponents that way. We do not fear anyone, and the first half was a slugfest.”
Senior center Jon Teske led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points and seven rebounds for Michigan (3-0), which missed 11 of its first 15 shots and didn’t crack double digits until the 9:53 mark in the first half.
"We just needed to continue to stay together and trust the process,” said sophomore guard David DeJulius, who chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench. “The statistics are going to come our way somehow, someway if we just continue to trust in Coach Howard and our coaching staff. We understand that if we continue to stay together, it'll fall our way.”
And after struggling to get into a groove against Elon, that's what happened in the second half. The offense started to get in sync and the Wolverines opened with a 14-6 run, capped by back-to-back baskets by Teske, to push the lead to 45-28 with 15:19 to play.
Elon tried to stay in the fight behind Marcus Sheffield, who scored seven points during a stretch when the Phoenix made six of eight shots to cut the deficit to 51-40 with 11:10 remaining.
That’s as close as it would get as junior guard Eli Brooks drained a 3-pointer to prevent the lead from dipping to single digits. Michigan eventually extended the lead to 66-46 on a three-point play by Teske with 3:03 left before coasting to the finish line.
Sheffield finished with 22 points for Elon (2-2), which shot 33.9 percent (20-for-59) from the field and 23.1 percent (3-for-13) from 3-point range. The Phoenix entered the game in the top 30 in the nation in made 3-pointers and 3-point attempts.
Senior guard Zavier Simpson added 11 points and seven assists and Brooks scored 10 for the Wolverines, who shot 54.8 percent (17-for-31) in the second half.
"Coach Howard told us at halftime we were being stagnant and not moving the ball well,” said sophomore center Colin Castleton, who pulled down eight rebounds in 11 minutes. “We've struggled before with that the last two games, but we got better at it in the second half.
"(Howard) wanted five or six passes. Just keep the ball moving, it'll find energy and we'll score.”
Early on, though, scoring was in short supply for Michigan, which struggled to get into any sort of an offensive rhythm. Elon took advantage and pieced together a 7-0 spurt over a four-minute stretch to take an 11-7 lead with 10:10 left in the first half.
It wasn’t until DeJulius checked in and provided a much-needed spark that Michigan started to find a flow. He buried a 3-pointer and knocked down a mid-range jumper to put Michigan on top, 12-11, at the 8:27 mark. That kick-started a 14-2 run that ended up putting the Wolverines up for keeps.
“I feel like we were stagnant in the beginning and we weren't popping the ball around enough,” DeJulius said. “When I got in I was making sure I was being aggressive and being unselfish."
Michigan didn't have more made field goals (six) than turnovers (five) until the 7:57 mark when Teske converted a three-point play. Simpson ended the run with a driving layup to make it 21-13 with 5:30 left in the first half.
Elon missed 12 of its final 16 shots as the Wolverines managed to navigate through another rough patch and come out with a 31-22 halftime lead.
"It's early so we're not really stressed about (the stagnant stretches) right now,” DeJulius said. “Not only is it early but we have a new system, a new coaching staff so we're kind of expecting that. We're going to have our growing pains and we just have to continue to stick together and play unselfish.”