Game 6: Michigan at Clemson Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Highlights / Beilein audio

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.

No Purnell, No Problem for John Beilein

Player Bullets:

  • 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.
  • Giddings

    Aawesome game, I was lucky enough to watch it from the first row behind the Michigan bench. I think there’s been enough game analysis already but just a few things I noticed being that close to the floor: 1) Bacari Alexander is a great motivator and teacher, and the kids have a lot of respect for him, 2) In the 2nd half everybody on the bench kept repeating “win the game!”, I love the attitude, 3) Darius was VERY frustrated after the drive no-call then travel in the 2nd half, he kept walking around the huddle and looked like he wanted to go after the refs… coaches did a great job of calming him down, 4) I love watching Beilein encourage his young guys on the bench, and it’s fascinating to watch him try to decide when to make substitutions and call timeouts. Go Blue, beat the Crimson!

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

      • JRW

        Sounds like I was sitting directly across from Giddings (second row courtside across from the bench). His observations were right one. The only thing I’d add is how impressed I was with Jordan Morgan. He looks like he belongs out there even as a RS Freshman. I saw him play a game in high school and didn’t come away overly impressed. But he looks like a completely different player both physically and mentally. It was evident live (and close) that they are a much better team with him in the game. Conversely, McLimans needs a lot of work. He didn’t look good live.

        Stu and Zack did a really good job communicating with the freshmen during the game.

  • Dave

    I wonder how much bias affects officiating? Does it really help the home team? There was one ridiculous charge called against Morris late in the second half when one Clemson player tripped and then ran into another Clemson player. It didn’t look like Morris even touched a Clemson player, let alone charged. It has to be frustrating at times and hard to keep your cool when you get those kind of calls.

    And it seems that other charging versus blocking calls are almost random. The offensive player seems to usually get the benefit of the doubt in the pros, less so in college – teams are actually allowed to play defense in college. One big reason college ball is more fun to watch.

  • tin mad dog

    That was an enjoyable game to watch. Hopefully, this will be a springboard game for TimBug Jr., Smot & the team as a whole.

    It was very nice to see a young team get a road win against a good team. It was also nice to see Zack hit those late 3’s. He’s getting a lot of open looks and he needs to knock those down. I’m sure those buckets gave him some confidence.

    Go Blue!

  • Fab54ever

    The biggest difference between last year and this year is the defense and chemistry of this team. I loved Manny and Deshawn they were great individual players. But this is a much better team without them on the court. The ball movement, rebounding, and shooting is much better. I remember last year when we couldn’t get any stops at the end of games or grab a key rebound. We may not execute great right now, but they will be fun to watch as they learn even more of the system. Final note the big 10 looks so strong it will be tough to win any more road games like this the rest of the year. Enjoyed watching it. Go BIG TEN.

    • ralph

      We still need that 6-11 rebounder with an attitude.But i really like Evan Smtz ,Horford,Morris …..this team should be in every game this year,should be a fun Big 10 season.

  • Bluebufoon

    Really encouraged by the improved defense intensity from last year to this and the potential of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford in the post. In Coach Beilein’s first three years big physical teams mauled us, at least now I can see improvement and potential as we go forward.

  • sven

    One thing I really noticed is how well Mclimans moves. VERY MOBILE for someone that size. Sure he needs to get stronger and develop his skills quite a bit still but if he can do that he’s going to be very valuable down the road.

    Also the way Horford runs reminds me of Dennis Rodman. High knees like he is running the tires drill in football.

    • Kenny

      very good point. I thought his posture remind me someone but couldn’t find the name. the kid has very good timing on blocking, and become more active on the offensive side, wish his jumper fell last night.

      Morgan is good too, if he can add a long jumper on the top of the key, be a very complete big ten player.

      McLimans needs to be more assertive, a bit lost now.

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  • Sorry I missed it and so excited they won. If anyone gets a stream I would love to hear where to access it; thanks in advance.

    • Mith

      If by chance you are a XBox LIVE subscriber, I’m pretty sure its in the ESPN channel. I haven’t checked yet, but they tend to archive games that were on their channels. I’m looking forward to watching the first half again.

    • Kenny

      My internet provider, FIOS, provides ESPN3 for free. All ESPN broadcasted games are available there for replay.

    • tin mad dog

      If you go to espn’s site and find the score of the game, there is a link to watch a replay. Here:

  • Mith

    A really nice win, so far this year has been what I expected going in- suprising wins(Clemson), near misses(Syracuse) and frustrating losses(UTEP). I’m thinking that continues all year and we probably end up right about .500 overall. I’ll take it, though, because consistency should come with experience and I think the talent is already in place.
    BTW, I am giddy at how much Darius Morris has improved from last year. He’s a whole new player!

  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Alright guys, torrent for the Clemson game is up at

  • I’ve been reading for three years but this blog is simply outstanding. It is, in my opinion, even superior to MGoBlog’s football coverage. Between those two sources, my Michigan sports addiction need never go un-enabled.

    • GregGoBlue

      I agree. Very, very strong coverage and analysis by Dylan. Well done all around.

      • michiganhoops4eva

        I completely agree; this site is amazing

  • JRose

    Great game! I think that last years team would have found a way to lose the game, nice to see us close a game out! Agree on the officiating comment. Morris phantom charge was commical and Novak’s block was a bit puzzling, but life is such on the road and it will only get worse. Assembly Hall(IU) is notorious for home team favoritism. Vogrich at this point looks like a freshman getting his first taste of varsity action…way to anxious! I thought Christian played nice d and grabbed a couple of good boards…he will be a good contributor over his 4 years. Did Stu attempt a 3? All in all a great win for a young team!
    GO BLUE!

  • Paul

    I was very pleasantly surprised by both Smotrycz and Horford. Looking good Wolverines!

  • wayman britt

    Good road win. Liked the team defense and composure at the end.

    I am not giving up on McLimans yet, but Horford needs to take more of his minutes. Horford can give the defense a lift with timely blocks and makes plays. McLimans is not doing anything well yet in this early season.

    • tin mad dog

      I agree about Blake and that Horford needs to move ahead of him in the rotation, at least for now. McLimans just looks out of control. He had a really poor slap foul after he was beaten out for a rebound. That was the most disappointing thing I saw out of him last night.

      Morgan continues to look like he’ll at least be a valuable role player for 4 years(if I dare project his U of M career after 6 games), following in the mold of a Mark Hughes/Chris Young/Graham Brown-type player. Maybe he’ll even develop into a Loy Vaught-type if he can start hitting that 10-12 foot J. That would be something! At the very least, we look to have a solid rebounder and banger that we’ve been lacking for a few years.

  • JimC

    What a huge win!
    I’m back on the hypewagon.

  • Tommy’s team unlikely to be pushovers, but I am happy Michigan is at home. Report on Harvard here:

    • Kenny

      Tommy is a great person and will get a warm welcome at Crisler. He also has a good fit at harvard but i don’t think his team matches up against Beilein’s.

  • GregGoBlue

    Did it look to anybody else like Novak was hesitant on several wide open 3’s in this game? I can’t see any reason why Beilein would give him the red light (but let McLimans and Horford take 3’s).

    Extremely solid game by Smotrycz, btw. He’s going to be a great player for Michigan for the next few years.

  • windsorGoBlue

    Great win, and the encouraging thing is that everybody still has room for improvement. I think the lineup needs to start settling down, as proven leaders get the overwhelming majority of minutes and the minor role players fall into their minor roles. Morgan is emerging as a dominant inside presence, but even more encouraging is Horford’s development: he appears to be bulking up by the week. All those that wished a redshirt upon Horford need to realize that we need his length now (when we face massive inside duos like Lauderdale-Sullinger), especially given McLimans’ total and utter ineptitude. McLimans’ wild airball shooting and inability to pull down boards makes me think he should sit, as he just isn’t a good player. Smotrycz showed us what he can do today — he’s going to be a great college PF.

  • bird

    I’m very happy that One-Day-a-Year-I-Root-for-the-Buckeyes Day is over, and so pleased to finally pull our weight in the challenge again. Let’s bring it home, Big Ten!

    I know this is a nitpick given our youth, but I’ll be looking to see some improvement in shot clock management. Was it just me, or were there too many violations or rushed shots at the end of possessions? When it gets down to 4.0 and nothing’s developing, why not just have Stu or Vogrich scoot out to @ 26’ feet and set up for a relatively composed shot from there? It’s a long shot – pun intended, I suppose – but if it doesn’t go, there’s the chance of an offensive rebound and a fresh clock. I like that play better than utter desperation, at least until someone emerges as a player who can make a good late-possession lane drive in an effective foul-drawing manner (perhaps that is where you would have fit, Mr. Zeigler?). And there was that one play where Vogrich had to force the super-rushed long-range three after Morgan actually squared to the basket from @ 16’ or so but then just decided not to pull the trigger – I really wanted Morgan to take that shot, if for no other reason than to demonstrate his willingness to take that shot. Whether he can hit that shot, consistently or at all, is another story.

    • ralph

      I think the Big 10 has turned the corner on the ACC based on talent.ACC will always get it’s 5-star recruits (Duke-NCar) but the rest of the ACC seems to be down.

  • Bigfoot

    Love the fact that this game gives me a rooting interest in the ACC for the rest of the year. Cmon Clemson!

  • bball

    Very nice win. This team is so likeable with how hard they work on the defensive end of the floor and how well they pass the ball and trust each other.

    One thing on Hardaway – He definitely needs to work on driving to his left. Teams are starting to overplay his right hand big time, and he needs to develop more confidence dribbling with his left stat.

    Very encouraging game by everyone though. The Morris to Morgan combo continues to impress beyond expectations!

  • Roverback

    Warning: lot of writing.

    Big wins bring out the bandwagon and count me in with the party jumpers. That said, I’ll give my nickel of accessment and opinions.

    Poise and composure throughout the game is not supposed to happen with such a young team. It’s easy to consider the game from a Clemson perspective which is they couldn’t hit their shots but you combine Michigan’s high shooting percentage
    saddled with good looks along with a solid defensive effort and you get what Clemson’s basketball saw – a big friggin hole to climb out of. Very impressed with the way the Wolverines didn’t let the Tigers claw back in it too.

    Jordan had some big buckets cleaning up. That is not the easiest thing to have a knack for. Smotz had a big offensive board and put back too. Those plays are back breakers.

    The team struck me as very focused, maybe angry to prove to a national audience what they’re capable of. Two tough losses and they deal that hand and I almost feel like they aren’t going to be affected by losing. Young player’s confidance is shaky and can deteriate quickly. Overall I have a good feeling about it. I don’t like seeing complaining about refs to the extent that Morris took it but that’s part of his competetiveness. His play after gettin rattled was inspiring.

    Credit to Beilen for putting the ball right back in Morris hands after Novak and Douglass turned it over consecutive trips while attempting to bring it up the floor. Maybe he wanted to give Morris a break from that duty. I’ll let the coach make that change again based on how fast he ditched it last night.

    As most have sited, they are playin team ball first and foremost. Wins are really difficult to gage. Just looking at things from a W/L angle, I am encouraged. The first three wins they took care of business. They stuck with Syracuse. The UTEP loss was disappointing. But they follow up two tough losses with a sparkling performance. 4-2 ain’t anything to write home about until you think about past years where we struggled with against inferior opponents. I’m not saying we’re far
    removed from inferior ourselves but so far so good.

    I was a little bit worried with the leniage (sp) of this team that maybe wearing a Div I uniform might be the Cherry on Top but that concern went into the trash can fast. Now I wonder if the notoriety of the famous familys may actually contribute to the confidance and comfort level of the entire team.

    The man to man d made me jerk my head up and take notice. Dang impressive considering I thought they’d be slow and late covering. They’ll be exploited in the Big Ten but their offense will hold its own. These guys are scrappers.

    Morris passing seems to have gone up a notch. Last year I got the impression he was trying to immulate the fab 5 passing style but in this game he had the ball in teammates hands the second they got open.

  • rlc

    Very enjoyable game.

    I have to agree with Dylan, though, that any program with a video room is going to figure out that the way to challenge our offense is to extend the pressure in the half-court sets. AFAIK, the ways to counteract that strategy are for the ballhandler to take his man off the dribble and for cutters to go for the back door.

    Apart from Morris, who is likely to be able dribble by his defender? Smotrycz – especially if he’s being defended by a Big 10 style power forward. Hardaway? I badly want him to have a killer crossover gene somewhere on his Y chromosome, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet.

    The other side of this, though, is that the lane has to be open in order for the back door or the blow by to turn into points. For that to happen, our big has to force his man to cover on the perimeter. This will work with the small lineup, when Smotrycz is the putative big, but when we need to defend a team with an inside game we’ll need more height on the floor; to keep the middle open on offense, our center needs to be able to knock down open three pointers; and that’s why McLimans needs to keep playing. He’s more likely to learn how to defend and rebound than Morgan and Horford are to learn how to hit threes. Unfortunately, I kind of doubt any of them are going to turn into a Pittsnoggle.

  • ralph

    I like the balance scoring. 1-2 guys struggle then Michigan has 3-4 other guys that can score .Last few years if Manny was off ,it was gonna be an ugly night