Michigan coach Juwan Howard talks about the second-half adjustments the Wolverines made in Tuesday's 79-69 win. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — It didn’t take long for Michigan to face its first notable test under coach Juwan Howard.
While it wasn’t pretty at times, the Wolverines were able to meet the challenge.
Michigan used a strong second-half showing and rode veterans Isaiah Livers, Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske to a 79-69 win over Creighton in a Gavitt Games matchup Tuesday at Crisler Center.
A halftime speech from Howard also helped the Wolverines turn things around after a lackluster finish to the first half.
“He (Howard) basically used our scout team and said these guys are sitting on the bench upset because we guarded them all week and weren’t letting them get anything (on offense),” said Livers, who finished with a career-high 22 points and shot 8-for-12 from the field.
“(Creighton) came out in the first half too comfortable and I think that was an emphasis in the second half. We came out and we had to make them uncomfortable.”
After Michigan (2-0) watched an eight-point lead slip away and entered the break trailing 41-38, the Wolverines responded. They used improved transition defense and better decision-making on offense to slow down the Bluejays as Simpson, Livers and Teske led the way.
Simpson made three layups within the first 2 minutes, 30 seconds of the second half and threw an alley-oop to Teske as the Wolverines pulled ahead, 51-47, with 14:48 to play.
Livers sparked a 13-5 run by knocking down a mid-range jumper, burying his fourth 3-pointer and throwing down a fast-break dunk before Simpson ended it with another driving layup to make it 64-55 with 9:13 to go.
Creighton managed to pull within five points twice in the final six minutes, but Teske kept the Bluejays at bay both times by scoring 10 straight points for Michigan down the stretch.
Teske put an end to the first threat with a pair of three-point plays to extend Michigan’s lead to 70-61 at the 4:17 mark. Then after Creighton cut it to 70-65 with 3:29 to go, he countered with a layup and hook in the paint to put the game out of reach with 1:20 remaining.
Teske finished with 17 points and seven rebounds and Simpson added 17 points and nine assists for Michigan, which outscored Creighton 41-28 in the second half and shot 56.6 percent (30-for-53) from the field.
Ty-Shon Alexander had 20 points, Marcus Zegarowski added 18 and Mitch Ballock had 11 for Creighton (1-1), which scored 42 of its points in the paint and attempted 20 more field goals than Michigan.
“The start of the second half really flipped the momentum of the game and it felt like we were playing catch-up from there,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We're really thin right now and I think as the game wore on their physicality really wore into us.
“We didn't have an answer for Simpson and Teske around the basket in the second half. Obviously, Livers made a bunch of big shots, too.”
Senior center Jon Teske talks about Zavier Simpson's performance and what changed in the second half of Tuesday's win. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Neither team had trouble finding holes in the defense during a back-and-forth start. Michigan was able to get whatever it wanted thanks to Simpson, who bounced back from a rough performance in the regular-season opener and helped create open looks during an early 3-point barrage.
Seven of Michigan’s first 11 made field goals came from beyond the arc, with four players each knocking down a long-range shot. Livers led the way with three deep balls, Simpson made a pair and sophomore guard David DeJulius buried a step-back 3-pointer from the corner.
After the downtown flurry, Simpson found Teske on a pick-and-roll for an easy dunk to give Michigan its largest lead of the half, 31-23, at the 6:50 mark.
However, the Wolverines’ interior defense and defensive rebounding left a lot to be desired. The Bluejays attacked the rim with little resistance and closed the half on an 18-7 run.
Creighton’s spurt started with three consecutive layups from Alexander — one coming off an offensive rebound and two off careless turnovers by Michigan — and ended with another bucket at the basket for a 41-38 advantage at the break.
“In the first half we just got beat up in the muscle areas — loose balls, offensive rebounds. They scored 24 points in the paint,” Howard said. “It just wasn't Michigan basketball in the first half.
“The message was clear (at halftime) and they did it. They applied what we teach and what we worked on throughout the week to prepare for Creighton.”