Ann Arbor – Michigan has made a habit of closing out the first half in dizzying fashion in its last three wins.
In the 2K Classic tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden, the Wolverines used a 22-6 run over the final 8:20 to take a 24-point lead, 50-26, into halftime against Marquette.
Michigan followed that up with an 18-6 spurt over the last 6:46 for a 19-point cushion, 44-25, at the break against SMU in the tournament final.
Then on Saturday, the Wolverines stifled Mount St. Mary’s with a 25-4 flurry over the last 15 minutes for a 17-point advantage, 33-16, at the half.
However, Michigan has also had a problem carrying the momentum over into the second half and putting teams away early.
SMU scored six straight to open the second to quickly cut Michigan’s lead to 13; Marquette managed to rally and make it a 12-point game after trailing by as much as 29; and St. Mary’s trimmed a 19-point deficit down to eight in the blink of an eye before Michigan pulled away and staved off each comeback.
It’s an area the Wolverines will have to shore up as they face Virginia Tech, No. 22 Texas and No. 14 UCLA in three of their next four games.
"You got to consider it's a game of runs,” sophomore center Moritz Wagner said. “If you're up high early, you have to expect that they come back at some point, and then great teams resist to that coming back.
“I think we did a great job of that. Obviously mistakes were made, but we have to kind of have to expect that and limit those opportunities for runs.”
Get to the line
Through the first five games, Michigan was averaging roughly 21 free-throw attempts a game.
But against St. Mary’s, the Wolverines shot a season-low six free throws and didn’t get to the line until freshman guard Xavier Simpson drew a foul on a layup with 7:41 left in the second half.
Michigan coach John Beilein said the low output had to do with the way St. Mary’s players went underneath a lot of screens on defense and forced the Wolverines to drive into crowds, which also resulted in plenty of open looks on 3-pointers.
“We got to continue to find areas to drive,” Beilein said. “People are going under a lot of screens on us right now and it's another trend in basketball that everybody has got to stay with, including me.”
The Wolverines played St. Mary’s in front of a rather sparse, uninspired crowd at Crisler Center.
It wasn’t unexpected considering it was the week of a holiday and the Wolverines were playing just hours after the football team lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to Ohio State.
Senior forward Zak Irvin said everyone on the team watched the game and knew they were going to be playing in a subdued environment.
"They had a tough loss, so we knew the crowd wasn't going to be as nice as it always is,” Irvin said. “We knew coming out we had to create our own energy and set the tone early."