Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. scored 12 points in 24 minutes in Michigan's 93-59 win over South Carolina State at Crisler Center on Tuesday night.
(Patrick Record | The Ann Arbor News)
ANN ARBOR -- Roughly two-thirds of Crisler Center’s 12,707 seats were kept company on Tuesday night.
South Carolina State was in town and, with winter’s first deep cold settling over Ann Arbor, the game was a whisper in the wind. The Wolverines’ 93-59 win wasn’t quite on par with the five hours of haymakers on ESPN -- those two heavyweight showdowns between Michigan State and Kentucky, Duke and Kansas.
But the hollow, stale air in Crisler had no impact on seventh-ranked Michigan. This game could have been played in an abandoned airplane hangar. The Wolverines nailed the second-most 3-pointers in program history, 15, and waltzed.
Six of those 3s and a career-high 24 points came from ever-emerging sophomore guard Caris LeVert. He was just one of a handful of notable performers. Nik Stauskas hit five 3s of his own, scoring a career-high 23. Jon Horford pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds.
“We didn’t run a lot of plays today,” coach John Beilien said. “We just played ball.”
That has seemed to work thus far.
Having previously slept-walked through two preseason games, Michigan rolled through the regular season’s preface -- opening wins over UMass Lowell and South Carolina State.
Now things get real.
Over an eight-day span starting Sunday, Michigan will travel approximately 4,900 miles, play four games against legitimate competition and find out what the man in the mirror looks like.
Sunday brings a trip to Ames, Iowa, to visit local hero Fred Hoiberg and his Iowa State Cyclones. The program is coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and has won 14 straight nonconference home games. Under Hoiberg, a native son and the school’s third all-time leading scorer, Iowa State is 43-9 at Hilton Coliseum in four years and averaging over 13,000 fans over the last two seasons.
Unranked and unknown, Iowa State is built around a flock of new transfers and junior college players, notably Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, one of two active Division I players to average at least 15 points in each of his first three seasons.
The Cyclones, which beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 80-50, on Tuesday night, are 2-0 on the season.
“What an opportunity to go Iowa State,” Beilein said. “It sounded like a good idea two years ago when they said, ‘OK, we’ll play up at your place, but then you can come back two years later. It’s going to be an incredible environment.”
Michigan topped ISU, 76-66, when they met in Ann Arbor on Dec. 3, 2011.
Last season the Cyclones beat Kansas State, Kansas and Oklahoma State at home. All were ranked in the top 15 at the time.
Returning from Ames late Sunday, U-M will take a quick pit stop back in Ann Arbor.
Then, on Tuesday, the Wolverines will repack and travel to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Wolverines open the tournament Thursday against Long Beach State, which appeared in the 2012 NCAA tournament and both the 2011 and 2013 NIT.
The second round in San Juan will bring either VCU, currently ranked No. 14 nationally, or Florida State, a rebuilding team. The other side of the bracket opens with Georgetown facing Northeastern and Kansas State against Charlotte.
“With the short prep, it’s going to be difficult,” Beilein said. “But it’s a little bit like what we’ll see many times in the Big Ten, but also in the Big Ten tournament and any NCAA tournament.”
For the second straight game Tuesday, Beilein posted a starting lineup of LeVert, Stauskas and Horford -- two sophomores and a junior -- along with freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.
The team’s first three options off the bench remain freshman guard Zak Irvin, sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht and senior forward Jordan Morgan.
As of now, the above appears to be Beilein’s set rotation.
Asked if he thought his group was ready for the grind of travel and four games in eight days, Beilein zipped back, “We’re going to certainly find out.”
“It will be interesting to see what the freshmen can do,” Beilein said later. “The other guys have been through it, but once you get into it, I think it takes a couple games to get used to it. Even our veterans -- and we don’t really have a lot of cagey old veterans out there -- they’ll only remember it. But it should be a great opportunity right now for us to grow in adversity.”