Thursday, November 17, 2016

Michigan 79, Marquette 61: The bigs show

After two easy but not necessarily impressive wins against lesser foes, perhaps Michigan needed the bright lights of the World's Most Famous Arena to get going.

That turned out to be the case Thursday night against Marquette, as the Wolverines were lights out in a 79-61 victory to move to 3-0.

And in a bit of a plot twist for a John Beilein team, the Wolverines' frontcourt players led the way.

Mark Donnal, Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson all hit triples early for Michigan, which built up a 25-15 lead about halfway through the first half.

With Michigan up 32-20 and shooting 61 percent from the field at the 8-minute TV timeout, the same old question came up: Can they keep this up? That's always been the question for John Beilein's teams -- albeit a reductive one. When will the downturn come, the cold streak, the decline? When the offense is working and guys are hitting their outside shots, Beilein's offense is hard to stop. Once those shots stop falling, Michigan looks quite the opposite, particularly in years without players who can attack the rim.

Well, that storyline didn't come into play tonight. In fact, it might not even be the story anymore at all -- there are still many pages to turn, but we might be reading from a new book entirely.

For the first time in Beilein's Michigan tenure, the Wolverines' frontcourt size might a very real advantage. Of course, who knows how good Marquette is, but the Wolverines' frontcourters dominated, hitting their outside shots, grabbing offensive boards and blocking shots all night.

Wilson has been the story of the season to date. Preseason hype is one thing -- in fact, there was Wilson hype last year, after he spent his offseason adding muscle to his frame. But, last season came and went and the hype train never left the station.

This time, however, Wilson's development appears to be real. Tonight, he scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots (not to mention affecting others). The long, athletic guy who seemed lost last season has looked like a completely different player through three games.

Michigan did all this with Derrick Walton picking up two early fouls, which, while not a positive for Michigan, allowed freshman Xavier Simpson to get some meaningful run. Simpson executed a Spike Albrecht special, dribbling circles in the lane before finding Wilson up top for a three.

Walton's absence didn't matter too much, as Michigan not only shot 6-for-11 from three en route to a 50-28 halftime lead, they did it in the paint, too. Michigan's offensive attack was humming to the tune of 1.27 points per possession, despite Walton not scoring in the half. Donnal was the star of the first half for Michigan, scoring 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting and adding three offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Marquette shot just 42.3 percent from the field in the first half with only five attempts from the free-throw line.

Michigan kept its foot on the gas early in the second half, later highlighted by a poster-worthy dunk from Wagner over Marquette center Luke Fischer.

Eventually, though, Marquette did start to wake up, cutting into Michigan's lead with a 10-0 run to make it 65-49 with 8:15 to play. Marquette later cut the lead to 14, but a fortunate bounce on a Zak Irvin jumper followed by an alley-oop slam by Wilson on the next possession prevented the Golden Eagles from mounting a real comeback.

Donnal and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 15 points apiece. Fischer led Marquette with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

Michigan will face SMU (3-0) tomorrow night in the 2K Classic title game. The Mustangs defeated Pitt, 76-67, led by 24 points from F Semi Ojeleye.

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