In a script that felt eerily familiar, Michigan used a decisive run midway through the second half to wiggle out of a small deficit in a guarantee game.
The Wolverines were trailing 40-38 when Jon Teske, Jaaron Simmons and Charles Matthews checked into the game with 13:01 to play. From there, Michigan went on a 21-3 run to seize control of the game.
Teske recorded the first double-double of his career, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench. The 7-foot-1 big man from Northeast Ohio had only scored 11 points and grabbed 15 rebounds total in his previous 78 minutes of career action.
Jaaron Simmons had three assists during the Wolverine run, finishing with a team high five, while Duncan Robinson knocked in two critical threes before Charles Matthews finally got rolling to put the game away.
Michigan’s second half defense (and Southern Miss’ shooting regressing toward the mean) turned this game around. The Golden Eagles scored 33 points on 27 first half possessions (1.22 PPP) while making half of their threes. In the second half, they managed just 14 points in 27 possessions (.58 points per possession) with a dreadful 28% effective field goal percentage.
The truth is always somewhere in the middle. Southern Miss hit some circus shots in the first half and probably missed some open ones in the second. This was a poor offensive team, but Michigan forced more second half turnovers (7) than made shots (6) and that’s important considering the game was in the balance.
Southern Miss does deserve credit for forcing the game to be played almost entirely in the halfcourt. Michigan’s transition offense bailed it out at times in the first two games, but this was a 54 possessions slog that featured a combined 2 fast break points. The Wolverines hadn’t played a game that slow since 2015 when they were trying to grind out upsets after Caris LeVert’s injury.
Offensively, Michigan just doesn’t really seem to have a lot of direction. After the game, Beilein called the offense “stagnant” and lamented the ball sticking and Michigan should be expected to score more than 1.12 points per possession against Southern Miss. Michigan made just four of its first 18 threes before hitting 4 of its last 5 late and there were stretches where it just couldn’t buy a basket.
In the end, Michigan finished shooting 63 percent on twos and 35% on threes for a 57 eFG%. Overall, it was the sort of game where Michigan played effectively for 6 or 7 minutes in the first half and 10 minutes in the second, but nothing seemed to work in the other 20-plus.
The Wolverine offense looked at its best when it was playing out of the post — something I’ve rarely written during the 10 years I’ve managed this site. Matthews, Wagner and Teske all caught the ball with their back to the basket and were able to ISO and score, turn and shoot, or find an open man. Simmons also seems more determined to pass the ball (and encourage his teammates to pass the ball) into the post than any Beilein guard before him.
Great teams roll through these non-conference guarantee games routinely. Other teams take some time to figure things out and it is no great surprise that Michigan is taking a few early lumps this season. A 12-point win over Southern Miss might be a ‘KenPom loss’ but it counts in the win column and never matters again.
Now the Wolverines are set to start on their whirlwind tour that will take them to Maui, Chapel Hill, Austin, Columbus and Detroit. They’ll be tested under brighter lights and in front of bigger crowds. What the result will be is still anyone’s guess, but three games in three days in Maui will shape the next two months.
- Jon Teske: Days after Beilein declared that Teske had played the best game of his career, he recorded the first double-double with his career. Teske scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in 15 minutes. Southern Miss is not a big team, but Teske’s length really changed the game for Michigan and his efficient scoring was a bonus. The progress that Teske has made on the glass might be the most impressive, he’s active on both backboards and proved to be an asset in an area that had been a weakness early on.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons only scored 2 points on a pair of late free throws, but he had five assists and was critical in Michigan’s second-half run, finishing with a +20 +/- on the night. As noted above, he seems to love to work the ball into the post. He has a knack for finding the corner three-point shooter and he looked aggressive in the halfcourt offense. He made a few poor decisions in transition and didn’t really look to score (one driving layup turned into a Kobe-assist for Teske), but he gave Michigan an important spark and played the majority of crunch time minutes for the second game in a row.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: We’ve been calling on Abdur-Rahkman to hunt shots and he’s starting to do it after a quiet opener. It was the three-ball that got Abdur-Rahkman going, but he went cold and finished 2-of-7 from deep. He was more effective inside the arc (4-of-7) and consistently got to spots with his mid-range jumper where he was comfortable. Four assists to one turnover is also impressive and he provided some solid defensive minutes against Griffin, especially in the second half. If a few threes go in the middle 20 minutes of the game, maybe it is never close, but Abdur-Rahkman is getting
- Moritz Wagner: There are high expectations for Moritz Wagner and not many would have predicted that he would sit the final 13 minutes of the third game of the season. This sort of inconsistency (on both ends of the floor) has plagued Wagner at different moments this year. Tonight, it was his decision making on offense (for example, trying to throw an alley-oop to Matthews along the baseline) and his inability to slow down the Southern Miss bigs as they routinely caught the ball where they wanted and shot where they wanted on the block.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson hit a couple huge threes when Michigan made its run and finished with 4 made triples on 8 attempts. He’s been more aggressive trying to do something with the ball in his hands other than shoot, but it doesn’t always work out. He missed a layup and had two turnovers to one assist. Personally, I’d rather him hunt threes and maybe more guarded threes more aggressively rather than trying to get creative with the ball. That’s what he does best and he shoots well enough that a 10-of-23 start to the season feels average.
- Charles Matthews: Right now, Matthews needs that “freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. at Penn State moment” where it all comes together. When to drive, when to shoot, when to make the feed to the roll man or when to attack. The three-point shot is a problem (3-of-12) but that 100% conviction to make a decision and go with it is what’s lacking for Matthews’ game right now. The tools are there (he had a beautiful drive to the basket in the second half), but it might be a while before it all comes together consistently on an every night basis.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson’s disruptive defense is legitimate. He had two steals and several other deflections, but I’m not sure what he can give Michigan in a slow half court game on offense. He missed his only shot (an NBA range three) and had 1 assist and 1 turnover in 22 minutes.
- Ibi Watson: Watson hit a couple of big shots in the first half, but he’ll be counting his blessings that a backdoor cut and dunk in the second half was whistled for a travel rather than a foul on him. If that play goes the other direction, this could have been a completely different game in the final 10 minutes.
- Isaiah Livers: The potential is there, but Livers isn’t giving Michigan much in terms of production when he’s on the floor.