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Newcomers fuel Michigan's season-opening victory over Bowling Green

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It’s been 262 days since Michigan last played a game.

But who’s counting?

Eight months and one unprecedented offseason later, Michigan returned to action Wednesday at Crisler Center with a 96-82 season-opening victory against Bowling Green and plenty looked different.

BOX SCORE: No. 25 Michigan 96, Bowling Green 82

Fan cutouts lined the empty stands behind the spaced-out benches. The Maize Rage virtually cheered on the team through a TV monitor during pregame warm-ups. Michigan’s coaching staff wore polos and masks. Fake crowd noise was pumped in throughout the contest.

Not to mention the No. 25 Wolverines unveiled a revamped roster that has six new faces. And two of those newcomers made a strong introduction, as transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown combined for 35 points and six made 3-pointers on 10-for-14 shooting.

Bowling Green's Davin Ziegler (4) guards Michigan's Mike Smith (12) in the first half Wednesday in Ann Arbor.

“We knew we wanted to come in and help this team,” said Brown, who finished with a team-high 19 points, 18 coming in the second half. "We knew that they were really good last year. We told each other we've got to come in and play our games, be aggressive.

"Coach Howard recruited us for a reason. He loved our games so we don't need to switch nothing up. We know we're really good players and we just have to play our roles. We did that today."

For Brown, that meant being the sixth man instead of being in the starting lineup, where he played during his three seasons at Wake Forest.

"It's a different role for me," Brown said, "but Coach Howard came to me and told me he needs me to come off the bench and inspire the second group and inspire the first group like I have been in practice. 

"Just come off the bench, bring a lot of energy, intensity and I feel like I did that today. I've just got to keep it up."

Brown arrived at Michigan as a 32.8% career 3-point shooter, but he felt he was better than his numbers indicated. He went 5-for-6 from deep in the second half.

After taking a seven-point lead into the break, the Wolverines widened the gap behind Brown’s long-range display. During an 80-second span, he drained a 3-pointer, flew in for a putback and splashed another deep ball to put Michigan up, 61-49, with 12:13 to play.

When Bowling Green managed to trim the deficit to single digits, Brown responded with his fourth 3-pointer and skipped back down the court, kick-starting a 12-3 run that allowed Michigan to put Bowling Green away.

The Wolverines took their largest lead, 87-68, at the 4:21 mark following Brown’s final 3-pointer and an alley-oop dunk from senior forward Isaiah Livers, with both baskets assisted by Smith.

"He gave us a big spark," Michigan coach Juwan Howard said of Brown. "He's another experienced guy that came from a Power Five conference, a program that he was well coached by Danny Manning. I went out and got him. When I saw that he hit the transfer portal, I jumped on it right away because I knew he was going to help us. He's the type of guy that he's embracing just by being here and doing whatever it takes to help the team."

Meanwhile, Smith got the start at point guard alongside Livers, senior guard Eli Brooks, sophomore wing Franz Wagner and fifth-year senior center Austin Davis.

Smith showcased why he was a prolific scorer in the Ivy League at Columbia, racking up 12 of his 16 points in the first half to help Michigan build a 43-36 halftime lead.

He also showed he could facilitate and create for his teammates, using his vision and shiftiness to dish out eight assists with one turnover.

"Mike was big for us," Howard said. "Mike is going to have the ball in his hands a lot and he's going to have opportunities to make plays for himself and for others. With his high basketball IQ, I trust he's going to make the right play to put us in the best position to score."

Justin Turner, who starred at Detroit Renaissance High, scored 24 for Bowling Green, which is viewed as the team to beat in the Mid-American Conference this year. Trey Diggs added 21 points and Daeqwon Plowden 15. The Falcons made 12 3-pointers, nine in the second half, but shot 37.1% (26-for-70) from the floor and trailed by double digits the final eight minutes of the game.

Livers recorded 17 points and nine rebounds and Brooks scored 11 for the Wolverines, who shot 54.1% (33-for-61) from the field and led wire-to-wire. Freshman center Hunter Dickinson chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds in his debut, which was also his 20th birthday.

In total, 10 players saw action from Michigan's new-look roster, which features talented returners, promising freshmen and a pair of transfers who look ready to contribute.

"We have a team built on guys who will get a chance to play," Howard said. "We trust each and every player that steps on that floor because they have put in the work in practice, buying in to the style of play, the culture that any guy can go off and have a big game for us."

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins