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November 8, 2013

Wolverines come alive in second half

At halftime of Michigan's season-opening win over UMass Lowell, a team playing its inaugural game as a Division I member against the 2013 national runner up, the score was knotted at an anxiety-inducing 23 points.

The score was blasted across the jumbotron in East Lansing, where the Michigan State faithful gave it a big cheer. In Ann Arbor, on the night Michigan lifted its banner and handed out glitzy rings, the Wolverines shot a miserable 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from the floor, including 1-of-9 from three-point range, to limp into the locker room to find some answers.

"It was a stagnant first half, that's for sure," Michigan coach John Beilein said.

"When we started out the second half, [sophomore guard Nik Stauskas] missed a shot, and it's like, 'Alright, who's going to do this thing?' It's going to be a team thing for a while. You have [Glenn Robinson] and [Caris LeVert], but it's going to be by-committee for a while. If that's good all year long, then they can't key on people. Who are we going to go to? We have to find that out when the lights are on and there are 15,000 people in the stands."

The answer Friday night?

"Defense," sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht said. "It sounds simple, but we were focused on getting stops and getting out and going. When you can get stops, that's when you can get out in transition, and that's when we're at our best. That's something we're really focused on."

The Wolverines forced six turnovers in the second half - 10 total - and 15 total River Hawk turnovers on their way to a 69-42 victory after winning the second half 46-19.

After falling behind 25-23 early in the second half, Michigan clamped down defensively.

The River Hawks were held off the scoreboard for an incredible 10:11 run of ferocious Michigan defense. They didn't make good on a field goal attempt from the 19:17 mark to 7:09.

By then, Michigan had ridden a 28-3 run, and the closer-than-expected struggle had avalanched into a full-on Michigan blowout.

"That's a big step for us," Albrecht said. "That was something we talked about all last year, and this year, we have really focused on defense. Offensively, we have a lot of capable guys, and we know we'll be alright. But we have to pick it up defensively."

The focus on the defensive end created plenty of transition opportunities for the Wolverines, who took advantage of them to finally accrue some offensive rhythm.

When the shots aren't falling, the Wolverines can rely on their superior athleticism to get out in transition and create something.

"The transition game was very important," Robinson said. "It gets people going, the bench going and the crowd going. We need every advantage we can get, and that's big for us."

"It was jumpstarted by our defense in the second half," added LeVert. "We came out with a lot of energy, and when we get out in the fast break, we're pretty good."

The River Hawks came into the game a little awestruck. The spent time before the game - now official Division I basketball players after making the Division II tournament in four of the last five years - strolling the Crisler Arena concourse, taking pictures and reveling in the spotlight.

But after an 8-0 Michigan run to start the game, UMass Lowell settled in and gave its all for a full 20 minutes.

The Wolverines were just too much for a full 40.

"Fatigue had a little bit to do with it," said River Hawk junior guard Akeem Williams, who finished with a team-high 16 points. "We got a little tired, and they're just relentless. Once they get a lead, they're not giving that lead up. It was hard for us to get ahold of everything and try to punch back."

"Michigan has a lot of young talent, and obviously an unbelievable coach," UMass Lowell Pat Duquette said. "I think they're going to continue to get better. If I was going to play them, I'd rather play them the first game of the season than later on, because you can see the talent there. There's a lot of youth, but once it comes together, I think they can be just as good as they were a year ago."


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