Ann Arbor — Michigan showed no signs of a Hawaiian hangover when it took on the University of California-Riverside on Sunday afternoon at Crisler Center.
Moritz Wagner scored the Wolverines’ first seven points from the floor and finished with a game-high 21 as Michigan cruised to an 87-42 win in the team’s first action since playing three games in three days last week at the Maui Invitational.
On deck for Michigan (6-1) is a trip to Chapel Hill on Wednesday, where ninth-ranked North Carolina awaits in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge showdown.
“I had great concerns about this game,” coach John Beilein said, referencing his team’s trek from Hawaii. “Knowing our travel was going to be difficult, the only good news in not winning the championship in Maui is it allowed us to get back a little early and get this game in.”
The Wolverines ran away from Riverside quickly, building a lead that ballooned to 29 points in the first half. It was a nice break from the usual for Michigan, as early in the season they have been dogged by slow starts against what many considered inferior competition.
“It was fun playing back at Crisler,” Wagner said. “It’s more fun when you start a game with a couple baskets and have some flow early.”
Michigan’s defense was suffocating, especially in a first half when it forced Riverside (2-3) into 10 turnovers that went for 11 points the other way. The Wolverines continued to play hard on the defensive end in the second half, as they didn’t allow a single Riverside player to reach double digits in scoring.
In the half-court offense, Riverside just didn’t have the size and athleticism to match up with Michigan. Wagner was able to get his shot off from anywhere on the floor, while Charles Matthews (17 points, 12 assists) was able to get to the bucket with ease. Six of Matthews’ seven field goals came from inside the arc.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me and trusting the offense,” Matthews said. “I had 12 assists today but didn’t hear nothing about that. Coach got on me for the one turnover. Last year in practice I probably had 50 turnovers and 10 assists, so I’m just trying to stay patient and composed.”
“He didn’t play for two years,” Beilein said of Matthews. “The year he was able to redshirt for us he worked so hard at his game to get better. Now the light has come on and he’s a really young player with huge potential.”
Duncan Robinson chipped in with 13 points and freshman Jordan Poole was the fourth in double figures with 11 for the Wolverines.
Brooks a ‘quick study’
Freshman Eli Brooks got the start at point guard for a third consecutive game, something that isn’t normal for a first-year player in Beilein’s complicated offense. Brooks played within the frame of the offense, finishing with eight points, four rebounds, two assists and just a single turnover.
“He makes the other four guys better right now,” Beilein said when questioned about the point guard position. “He seems to be a quick study. As we go game to game, he can just make really quick changes.”
Sophomore Zavier Simpson and graduate transfer Jaaron Simmons are also part of the conversation in the backcourt.
“(Simpson) makes the other four guys better on defense, and (Simmons) is struggling coming off the bench right now. He’s going to be in every game, and one of these days he’s going to come out of the struggles.”
“We’re really trying to figure out where it is right now.”
Brooks played 18 minutes, Simpson (no points, two rebounds) played 13 and Simmons (no points, two assists, three turnovers) just seven as Michigan emptied its bench late in the second half.