Michigan chuckled its way to a comfortable 79-61 win over Marquette in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. Five players scored in double figures for the Wolverines, who showed tremendously rare early-season poise, a feat tough for any team in November.
“There’s not a coach in the country that goes into these first matchup games at neutral sites playing against other opponents from major conferences…that thinks you know what you’re going to do,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “To go out and play that well…it was a good chance to go out and play a good team.”
The folks from Ann Arbor shot a whopping 59 percent from the floor, including 55 percent from three-point range, and 80 percent from the free throw line in the first half. At the initial buzzer, the Wolverines almost swallowed Marquette whole, leading 50-26. It’s no wonder Beilein sat happily shocked at the podium following the victory.
“I don’t know how I would define a [killer instinct],” he said. “With our guys it’s sort of individual killer instincts. Some guys are more apt to go after something and be hungry. I think it does get to be contagious.”
Zak Irvin led the offense with 16, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Mark Donnel, who played tremendously well off the bench, combined for 30 points. The Wolverines dazzled with rip-roaring dunks and alley-oops, lifting the tight crowd of Blue fans out of their seats.
“I think we all came out pretty amped up,” Irvin said. “Obviously playing in the Garden is a great experience for all of us. We knew it was going to be like a home game for us with all of the fans that traveled.”
Marquette turned on some noise, late but looked more like a team seen in other gymnasiums around the country. The Golden Eagles showed spurts of success, but the overall packaged has not been put in place yet. Marquette ripped away nine steals and forced 17 turnovers, but shot a below-average 41 percent from the floor and hit just 4-of-15 threes.
“We had 17 turnovers,” Beilein said. “That’s very unlike a Michigan team. There’s not too many times we turn it over 17 times and win, but we shot the ball so well in that first half to get ourselves a big enough lead.”
Last season brought an NCAA Tournament victory over Tulsa, but a disappointing loss to Notre Dame in the second round. This year, the group feels a bit more “seasoned” according to their head coach.
D.J. Wilson turned in a double-double, scoring 10 points and snagging 12 rebounds. Wilson, who’s punch card registered only six minutes per game in 2015-16, has begun to emerge as a reliable Swiss Army Knife. The junior checked off nearly every box. Scoring from two-point range, three-point range, corralling offensive and defense rebounds, dishing out two assists, and tallying two blocks.
Friday night brings an interesting test for Michigan, who felt the wrath of an SMU team that laughed them out of the gym a season ago. In Dallas, playing a true road game, the Wolverines dropped an 82-56 decision. It was the worst lost of the year. This time, it’s a chance to measure just how good Michigan can be.
“They really put it on us last year,” Beilein said. “It’ll be a great, great barometer for us to see where we are. We’d love to win this championship and get to a 4-0 start.”