Michigan basketball shrugs off slow start to beat Jackson State

It took a while — and some would say a little too long — for the Michigan men’s basketball team to establish any sort of dominance over winless Jackson State. The Wolverines’ terrors of a near-excitement by Ohio, another mid-major, their final time out, rang through much of the first half.

But Michigan (5-1 agg) shook off its slow start against the Tigers (0-4) en route to a 78-68 win Wednesday night.

To begin with, the Wolverines built a brick wall – just not a defensive wall. Michigan attempted three-pointer after three-pointer, some of them passing off the post, some outside the perimeter and some outside of dribbling. Regardless of the method, the Wolverines were fully committed to shooting from a distance, and knowing it was worth it. They opened 1-6 from deep with six of their first seven shots being threes.

While Michigan shot stone for stone early on, Jackson State played resolutely.

Literally from the opening tip — where a tiger tried to chase the lost tip in the Wolverines’ backcourt — Jackson State was scrappy. Though it also opened cold from the field, the high-intensity play kept the Tigers on track, creating extra possession and disrupting Michigan’s offense when looking for baskets outside the three-point line.

With timed buckets and a barrage of Wolverine misses, Jackson State kept Michigan on alert throughout the first 15 minutes. Whether it was an alley-oop dunk in Wing Trace Young’s transition or just not backing down in front of larger defenders, the Tigers kept the Crisler center on their toes.

Regardless of the opponent, regardless of the records, capture a basketball game and it can go either way. Perhaps Michigan took control just in time.

With four minutes remaining in the first half, the Wolverines finally drew on each other, and at the other end their offense finally found a rhythm. Michigan went on a 9-0 run down that stretch — crowned by a difficult three-step in the corner of freshman wing Jett Howard — to go 37-27 and build a lead it wouldn’t give up.

As the game went on, the Wolverines stayed comfortably in the driver’s seat, making sure to completely shake off their slow start. The Tigers’ passes, which were crisp early on, were intercepted or sailed out of play as the half progressed.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s three-hands began falling with some consistency. Back-to-back threes from graduate guard Joey Baker — immediately followed by a three from Jett, who had him on his way down to celebrate with high-fives Michigan coach Juwan Howard — lifted the Wolverines’ 50-percent shots of depth in the second half kept Jackson State out of reach.

And suddenly, the once-angry tigers looked unrecognizable from their former selves — and so did the once-limping Michigan, looking strong and collected.

The Wolverines’ struggles in the last few games tried to translate into their matchup with Jackson State, but they shrugged and eventually pulled it off against an underperforming team.

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