ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The country's largest conference team, which had the best scores, visited the country's brightest defense on Wednesday night as part of the match against this year's Big Ten / ACC Challenge. It was your irremovable and immovable object puzzle. Except that it turns out that the still object can go out and run a little too.
The No. 7 Michigan tied its points record with an 84-67 victory over the 11th in North Carolina on Wednesday at the Crisler Center. The sophomore Jordan Poole fired a shot of nearly 10 meters with a hand in his face as the shooting clock expired from the Wolverines' last possession to 84.
"I guess that was how the night was going," Poole said.
Poole finished the match with 18 points. Senior Charles Matthews was 21 and rookie catalyst Ignas Brazdeikis added 24, scoring his third consecutive game with at least 20 points. The three players shot more than 50% of the goals, while a good defense turned into a frustrated and seemingly open Tar Heels.
Michigan's turn to defensive domination is a new look for head coach John Beilein. Under the impulse of his assistant Luke Yaklich and two leaders of the "Bulldog" (Matthews and Zavier Simpson), the coach known for his offensive genius, developed a team with a defense-minded state of mind and handed that identity to a spot in the national championship game. While this attitude was reflected smoothly on the transition offensive on Wednesday night, the Wolverines (7-0) seemed as dangerous and confident as any group of Beilein during his impressive term in Ann Arbor.
"It's like a flu in there, a good flu," Beilein said of the confidence his team has after its second win in November against a ranked opponent. "When you're successful and you realize playing really hard and being together is fun, I think it's so natural to believe in yourself."
The defense is what turned Wednesday's match into an unbalanced affair. Yaklich likes to tell his players to challenge the shots "of all the fibers of their being", which they did against North Carolina. Michigan has challenged 21 of North Carolina's 25 throws and has managed to keep one of the country's best off-beat offensives bottled most of the night.
The Tar Heels only scored one bucket in the first five minutes of the second half while Michigan opened a 10-point lead. Three minutes and a point on Tar Heel later, the gap increased by 20 points and the Wolverines were playing with a team as exasperated as talented.
Roy Williams then stated that he was as frustrated as ever for 31 years that he was head coach. Beilein considered that one of the best compliments that he could receive.
Roy Williams' frustration level reached a boiling point on Wednesday after a 84-67 loss to Michigan, number 7, when he said "for the moment, we're puzzling" and questioned his own performance as a coach in the first eight games of the Tar Heels season.
Questions remain as to the Cavaliers' defense, but the offensive seems much better.
Before Michigan caught on the fast turn of North Carolina and put the heels on the ground, the Wolverines proved that they could also trade shots with prolific attire to score goals.
Led by Brazdeikis, the Wolverines attack scored 17 points in four minutes of the first half, which took the lives of North Carolina and erased Tar Heel's quick lead. The freshman, who is becoming one of the bright new stars of college basketball, scored six points in two possessions to start the race. The native Lithuanian seems to grow whenever he plays and savor the spotlight of a great match.
"It's absolutely not a surprise to me," he said about the major performance that he suffered in his first seven university matches. "I imagined it every day, I'm always confident, that's what it's supposed to be."
Between Brazdeikis and Poole's braggart on the offensive side and the ceaseless efforts of Simpson, Matthews and other defenders, it's no wonder that North Carolina players left the field Wednesday with the vapor that came out of their ears. They will probably not be the last ones.
Brazdeikis watched the last minute of coming and going in the first half from the bench after scoring his second foul. Without him, Michigan turned to Matthews, who dropped an open pointer with a good ball movement, then Poole, who hit another corner in the final seconds of the half. It was six more points in less than a minute to meet another parade from North Carolina and take the lead at halftime.
Poole climbed on the backs of his teammates as they were celebrating their way into the locker room while an invading crowd threatened to put the Crisler Center's roof into orbit. After another big win for the Wolverines, the ceiling just goes up.