Isaiah Livers, Michigan hoops 'keep it simple,' cruise past Houston Baptist in Bahamas tuneup
Ann Arbor — Senior guard Zavier Simpson scooped up the loose ball near midcourt, shook free from a defender and served up a one-handed alley oop to junior forward Isaiah Livers for an emphatic dunk.
Following a timeout, Simpson swished the first of his three made 3-pointers from the wing to give Michigan a 20-point lead less than eight minutes into the game.
It was that kind of night for the Wolverines, who got off to a blistering start and never looked back in a 111-68 wire-to-wire win over Houston Baptist on Friday at Crisler Center.
"It's all about learning from start to finish,” coach Juwan Howard said. “Our group played hard. They defended the ball very well. Our opponent shot 36 percent from the field. That says a lot about our defense and how active we were.
"Isaiah said it best. We just kept it simple. … I commend our guys for their effort.”
Livers led the onslaught with a career-high 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting for Michigan (4-0), which reached the 100-point mark for the first time since Nov. 21, 2017 (a 102-64 win over Chaminade).
Simpson finished with 22 points and a career-high 14 assists, which is tied for the second-most in a single game since 1970 and trailed only Derrick Walton Jr.’s mark of 16 set in 2017. It was also the first 20-10 game of Simpson's career.
Sophomore center Colin Castleton added a career-high 14 points off the bench and sophomore guard David DeJulius tied his career high with 10 points. The Wolverines shot 55.8 percent (43-for-77) from the field, saw 13 players score and finished with their most points in a game since they scored 112 against Indiana on Feb. 22, 1998.
Meanwhile, it was a night to forget for Houston Baptist. Jalon Gates, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points per game, hoisted a 3-pointer between two defenders that drew nothing but glass. Gates followed that up a wild layup attempt as he lost he balance driving to the rim.
Then on another possession, Philp McKenzie drove into a double team and had his shot attempt swatted out of bounds by Castleton, who didn’t even need to jump to record the block.
"Honestly, we see it's about defense,” said Livers, who bested his previous high of 22 points set earlier this month against Creighton. “We started out very well-disciplined on defense. We didn't mess up any coverages, and we got out and ran. We knew their transition defense wasn't that good so there were going to be some times where people are leaking out. First and foremost, we made sure that we secured the rebound and we tried to get out and run.”
Michigan was able to give most of its starters longer breathers and get extended playing time to the reserves, who continued to pour it on. Freshman guard Cole Bajema used a pump fake to get free and knocked down the first basket of his career to make it 38-10 with 7:31 left in the first half.
As the lead continued to swell during Michigan’s offensive outburst, sophomore guard Adrien Nunez capped the dominant half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to extend the cushion to 63-26.
By the time halftime finally arrived, Livers (17 points) and Simpson (15 points) combined to outscore Houston Baptist, who had as many turnovers (11) as made field goals (11) over the first 20 minutes.
It was more of the same in the second half as Simpson and Livers continued to add to Houston Baptist’s misery. Simpson converted a turnover in a left-handed layup and another steal into a wide-open dunk for Livers that gave the Wolverines their first 40-point lead, 71-30, with 16:41 left to play.
At one point, Houston Baptist failed to score off a live-ball turnover with a 4-on-1 advantage that ended with senior center Jon Teske coming away with a steal and drawing a foul.
The Huskies managed to put together a 12-2 run to cut it to 75-45 with 12:53 to go, but they could never get the deficit under 30 points the rest of the way.
Michigan set a new season high for points (80) at the 11:29 mark on a basket by Castleton in the paint, surpassing the team’s previous high of 79 points scored against Appalachian State and Creighton.
The Wolverines topped the century mark on a jumper by DeJulius with 3:37 remaining and took their largest lead, 109-63, on a 3-pointer by walk-on forward C.J. Baird at the 1:55 mark.
“I didn't think, when I was here, we ever scored 100 but I forgot about the Chaminade game,” Livers said.
“Me and (Simpson) were trying our best not to watch the scoreboard. We were trying to keep the young guys locked in on defense, but it got to a point where we've got C.J. in there and you know C.J. is going to let that ball up.”
Ian DuBose scored 16, Gates 15 and Myles Pierre 13 for Houston Baptist (0-4), which finished with 26 made field goals and 19 turnovers.
After capping a four-game home stretch in blowout fashion, the Wolverines will look to ride the wave of momentum to the Bahamas for next week’s loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
"Our confidence is through the roof,” Livers said. “We should be waking up tomorrow morning with a smile on our face not thinking about no bad defensive mess ups, no bad offensive mess ups. We all played really well tonight.”