On Saturday, we experienced the agonizing side of inconsistency. Tuesday night, we saw the other more exciting side, as Michigan knocked off Clemson, 69-61, at the Littlejohn Coliseum. For the first twenty minutes Michigan looked, dare I say, dominant. They were stifling defensively, forcing Clemson to shoot under 30% from field, and ran their free flowing offense to perfection.
It remains to be seen how good Brad Brownell’s 5-1 Clemson squad will end up, but Michigan fans are all too familiar with how hard it is to win on the road. In the preview, I pointed out that Michigan hadn’t won a non-conference road game since December 2006. Conversely, Clemson has lost just one November or December nonconference home game since that season.
Michigan jumped out to a double digit lead early and managed to keep the Tigers at arms length throughout the contest. Clemson made spurt after spurt, trimming the lead to single digits on multiple occasions, but the Wolverines had just enough answers to stay on the safe side of the ledge – no small feat for a team who saw 48% of their minutes provided by freshmen.
Michigan cooled down offensively in the second half, as Clemson ramped up the pressure defense, but their offense was good enough to win. The shooting wasn’t gaudy (51 eFG%), the turnovers left something to be desired (21.2 TO%), and the offensive rebounding (27 OR%) wasn’t spectacular. The one thing that Michigan did do well – boosted by Clemson’s late game fouling – was get to the free throw line. Michigan posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 57% as they attempted 28 freebies. Morris, Hardaway, and Smotrycz were all outstanding, 18 of 22, at the line while Novak and Douglass were just 1-6. The ball movement was significantly better in the first half, giving Michigan fans a glimpse of how the offense is meant to look. In the second half Clemson went to a similar pressure scheme at UTEP, something that Michigan is likely to see a lot of until they prove they can handle it consistently.
The key to the game for Michigan on the defensive end was the keep Clemson off the foul line, and they certainly did a good job of that. The Tigers attempted just 13 free throws for a free throw rate of 21%, well below their season average of 56%. Michigan’s defense was probably even better than the .92 points per trip that they allowed per possession, as Clemson scored 20 points in the final five minutes. The Wolverine game plan appeared to be to dare the Tigers to shoot the three ball, and it worked. Clemson shot just 36.5% from the field — 47% from two (34 att.) and 24% from three (29 att.). Michigan might not have played any offensive juggernauts this year but they have yet to allow an opponent to score over .96 points per possession.
Beilein continues to tinker with the lineup. His small ball lineup late, with Novak at the four and Smotrycz at the five, was extremely effective today but was useless versus UTEP. It’s an intriguing lineup because Evan has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get past so many fives (and fours), an ability we got a taste of today. In the last game recap I questioned a couple coaching decisions that Beilein made, today he deserves credits for using his timeouts properly in the second half, sitting Morris down just long enough in the 2nd half, and keeping this team poised on the road.
It’s tough to complain about road wins against high-major teams and you won’t hear any complaints from me. It wasn’t always perfect but any road game where you leave the gym with a ‘W’ is a good one – especially just a couple days after a pair of disappointing losses. Michigan will regroup back in Ann Arbor before they face Harvard at home this weekend. Player bullets after the jump.
- Darius Morris: Michigan needs Morris and he knows it. Now he needs to stop letting it affect his play when the going gets tough. Morris has improved significantly, that much is clear, but he needs to continue to let the game come to him rather than forcing matters. He certainly had a solid stat line but it could have been better: 13 points, 8 assist, seven rebounds, four steals, and four turnovers.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz took the game over for the first time in his young career, scoring 7 straight Wolverine points in the first half. His shot was falling, 6 of 7 (2-2 3pt), and he even grabbed six rebounds (2 off), not much to complain about with 18 points in 25 minutes. When he puts the ball on the floor like that, he’s tough to stop. Some teams will be able to negate it, and he’ll hit bumps in the road, but this is a good taste of what he can provide when things are going well.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway can do a lot to help this team but it needs to be more than shooting corner threes. As things stand right now, he appears to be have a tough time figuring out the proper times to attempt a little bit more. Shot selection is a tough lesson for any freshman and Hardaway is a work in progress in this regard. Despite these complaints, he had 15 points on 3 of 8 (2-6 3pt) shooting in 30 minutes including some clutch free throws.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan missed huge stretches of the first half due to foul trouble but had 3 of Michigan’s 7 made field goals in the second half. Morgan doesn’t have any sort of true offensive game yet but he can convert good looks around the basket and comes up with big rebounds — he made some huge plays when Michigan desperately needed a bucket.
- Zack Novak: After a rough shooting start, Novak hit a pair of back to back three pointers with 5 minutes to play that essentially iced the game. Novak added 5 defensive rebounds in his 33 minutes of playing time. Despite some struggles and sloppy turnovers, Novak had some strong boards and hit perhaps the two biggest shots of the game.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass had his worse game of the year offensively, but he continues to play strong perimeter defense. I have always liked him as an off-ball defender, as he does a great job fighting through screens and following shooters, but he continues to improve on the ball as well.
- Jon Horford: Horford continues to creep toward McLimans on the depth chart as he just seems to make plays while he’s on the floor. In just five minutes, Horford sored 2 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and picked up a block (he should have had another but it was called a foul).
- Blake McLimans: McLimans is not producing. He’s missing his threes, he’s losing out on defensive rebounds, and he’s not providing much of anything defensively.
- Colton Christian: A situational player at this point – typically in the first half – Christian had a couple of strong rebounds and played good defense. He did his job and didn’t try to do anything more.
- Matt Vogrich: Unlike Christian, Vogrich tried to do a little too much. One of his field goal attempts (1 of 4) was a desperation three but the 1 on 3 fast break driving attempt was unnecessary, especially given the situation.
- Big Ten/ACC Challenge Counter: 4-2 Big Ten. Tomorrow’s matchups include: IU at BC, NC St. at Wisc, Purdue at Va Tech, Maryland at PSU, and MSU at Duke. Previews here.