'We'll get better': Michigan survives another slow start, beats CMU
Ann Arbor — Another game, another lackluster start.
Michigan found itself in an all-too-familiar situation for the second straight contest having to dig out of an early hole due to a sluggish first half.
But the Wolverines were able to wake out of their slumber in time to do just enough to survive Central Michigan, 72-65, Monday night at Crisler Center.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the charge with 17 points for Michigan (2-0), who missed plenty of open looks and shot 29.4 percent (10-for-34) on 3-pointers. Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews each scored 13, Duncan Robinson added 10 points and Moritz Wagner recorded his second straight double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“We thought the other day (against North Florida) that they warmed up really slow and we weren't as into it. We were fired up to come out and play today,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Assistant coaches did a great job in the locker room and we were fired up. It didn't make a difference.
“We'll get better at it. It's a slow start, but a great finish."
After the offense labored throughout much of the first 20 minutes, Michigan opened the second half by making four of its first six shots to create some separation. Abdur-Rahkman scored five straight on a layup and 3-pointer, Robinson buried a 3-pointer and Simpson scored on a scooping layup to extend the lead to 42-34 with 16:10 remaining.
Central (1-1) countered with an 11-2 run that featured a 3-pointer from David DiLeo and six points from Josh Kozinski on three free throws and a 3-pointer to reclaim a 45-44 edge with 12:45 to play.
Michigan eventually found an answer with back-to-back 3-pointers from Jaaron Simmons and Matthews to pull ahead 52-47 roughly two minutes later, a lead the Wolverines wouldn’t relinquish.
Central trimmed the deficit down to three points three times before Michigan’s defense forced five straight empty possessions — three turnovers and two stops — to spark a pivotal 6-0 run. Abdur-Rahkman started the spurt with a jumper, Robinson scored on a transition layup, and Matthews capped it with a steal and fast-break dunk to give the Wolverines enough breathing room at 62-53 with 4:11 remaining.
"At the end of the day I feel like defense comes first,” Simpson said. “I feel like we should be able to play defense consistently. The offense is going to come. It may not be flowing as well now but sooner or later it's going to kick in. And when it kicks in, that's when it gets really exciting."
Central managed pull within six twice in the final 40 seconds but never seriously threatened as Robinson and Simpson combined to make three free throws to seal it.
“We knew we had more than an uphill coming in tonight but I credit our guys for hanging in there,” Central Michigan coach Keno Davis said. “To be just a couple shots, a couple plays away from having that game go down to the wire, I think it's a good test for us early in the season and one that hopefully will pay off for us as we get into the heart of our schedule.”
The majority of the first half was rather ugly for Michigan. The Wolverines opened with more turnovers (two) than shots made from the field (1-for-6) as the Chippewas used a 9-0 run on a three-point play from Shawn Roundtree (21 points) and 3-pointers by Luke Meyer (12 points) and Matt Beachler to put Michigan in an early 11-3 hole four minutes into the game.
Simpson snapped the run with a driving layup to start a 9-2 spurt and pull Michigan within one. But Central countered with a flurry of 3-pointers as Roundtree drilled a pair and Gavin Peppers knocked down another to put the Chippewas ahead 22-14 at the 7:47 mark.
Central withstood another Michigan push and maintained a 30-22 with 3:49 remaining before the Wolverines started turning defense into offense, forcing the Chippewas to miss their final four shots while making four of their last six to close the half on a 10-1 run.
Robinson roused the offense with a 3-pointer, Simpson scored on a driving layup, Jon Teske knocked down a pair of free throws and Abdur-Rahkman capped it with a deep ball to give Michigan a 32-31 advantage — its first lead since the first two minutes of the game — at the break.
“I have some confidence the sun is going to rise tomorrow and we're going to get better,” Beilein said. “It's going to be a journey as we try to figure this thing out and mold this team together.”