'We're on the map now': Surging Michigan rolls No. 8 Gonzaga, wins Battle 4 Atlantis
When Michigan arrived in the Bahamas for the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, it wanted to send a statement to the rest of the college basketball world.
It’s safe to stay the message has been received.
After taking down Iowa State and thumping No. 6 North Carolina, the Wolverines capped off a dominant week by rolling No. 8 Gonzaga, 82-64, with a second-half blitz in the championship game Friday at Imperial Arena.
"I'm sure we're on the map now,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “A lot of teams are looking and seeing Michigan as a name that's out there. When you beat teams like Creighton and Iowa State as well as North Carolina and Gonzaga, you're no longer under the radar.”
Junior forward Isaiah Livers had 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting to lead Michigan (7-0), which joined Wisconsin as the only Big Ten programs to win the eight-team, three-day event since its inception in 2011.
Senior center Jon Teske finished with 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Senior guard Zavier Simpson added 13 points and 13 assists — the third time in four games he’s reached double-digit assists — and freshman wing Franz Wagner scored 10.
The quartet helped turn a close contest into a convincing victory after Gonzaga opened the second half with an 11-2 run and pulled within 38-36 on a 3-pointer by Admon Gilder with 16:00 left to play.
For the second straight day against a top-10 team, the Wolverines quickly flipped the switch and used a stretch of hot shooting to blow the game open. This time it came in the form of a ferocious 21-4 flurry over a five-minute span.
Five Wolverines scored during the spurt where shots were falling from all over the court. There were 3-pointers from sophomore guard David DeJulius, Simpson and Livers, a putback dunk by Teske, and a couple of driving layups by Wagner. By the time Livers capped the run with a jumper, the Wolverines turned a two-point game into a 59-40 lead at the 11:07 mark.
"Coming out the half, usually most coaches want to adjust and control the game as much as possible,” said Livers, who was named to the All-Tournament Team. “We're lucky enough to have a coaching staff where they let us dictate our own (shots) coming out of the second half and then we'll rely on his (Howard’s) words.
“(Howard) would rather us go out there, get out, run and do the little stuff that we worked on since first week of July — hit open shots, run and get the ball to the big fella (Teske)."
Gonzaga could only manage to the cut the deficit to 11 before Michigan started bombing away from 3-point range. In a span of 69 seconds, junior guard Eli Brooks and Livers combined to make three deep balls to put the game out of reach, 76-57, with 4:26 remaining.
The Wolverines shot a blistering 60% (18-for-30) in the second half — missing just six attempts over the final 16:48 after missing their first six shots after halftime — shot 54% (34-for-63) for the game and made 12 3-pointers. It was the fourth straight game Michigan shot at least 50% from the field and made at least 10 deep balls.
Killian Tillie was the lone double-digit scorer and finished with 20 points for No. 8 Gonzaga (8-1), which led for only 6:47 in the game and was held under 70 points for the first time this season.
"They run some great stuff. They’re very physical and we had some problems with their physicality on both ends," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "They screened us hard and posted on both ends...Their physicality on the defensive end, we missed a lot of shots around the rim that we’ve delivered on so far this year.
"(Teske) did a great job of protecting the rim. We wouldn’t score over the top of him and that was a big part of the game."
Teske set the tone early and did a little bit of everything — scoring around the rim, knocking down perimeter shots and bothering the Bulldogs with his size — to neutralize a Gonzaga frontcourt that was coming off an overtime battle against Oregon.
He dominated the paint on defense by blocking, contesting and altering shots to help fuel a 16-4 run that saw Michigan take a 23-16 lead with 9:00 left in the first half. Livers and Wagner keyed the stretch with 12 combined points, with Livers making two 3-pointers and a layup and Wagner finishing two drives at the rim.
After taking a six-minute breather, Teske continued to be a menace on both ends of the floor. He scored the final six Michigan points, including a tip-in at the buzzer, to give the Wolverines a 36-25 lead at the break and put them on track for another statement win.
“All the hard work each and every game, playing against Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga, it's hard. It's a lot of work,” Howard said.
“There was a lot of countless hours and sleep that I lost. But it's gratifying to be able to hold up that trophy and say, 'You know what? All that sacrifice we went through, all the hard work we put in was well worth it.’"
Battle 4 Atlantis
At Imperial Arena, Nassau, Bahamas
►Game 1: Michigan 83, Iowa State 76
►Game 2: North Carolina 76, Alabama 67
►Game 3: Gonzaga 94, Southern Miss 69
►Game 4: Oregon 71, Seton Hall 69
►Game 5: Michigan 73, North Carolina 64
►Game 6: Gonzaga 73, Oregon 72 (OT)
►Game 7: Iowa State 104, Alabama 89
►Game 8: Seton Hall 81, Southern Miss 56
►Third-place game: North Carolina 78, Oregon 74
►Championship: Michigan 82, Gonzaga 64
►Fifth-place game: Seton Hall 84, Iowa State 76
►Seventh-place game: Alabama 83, Southern Miss 68