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The sequel wasn’t much different from the original, as Michigan easily handled Montana in their NCAA Tournament opener for the second straight season. Once again, Charles Matthews was clearly the best player of the floor. Once again, the Wolverine defense was phenomenal. Montana missed 21 of their first 25 shots, scored just 6 points in the first 12 minutes of the game, and finished with 0.81 points per possession. Michigan’s lead dwindled to eight after two consecutive Sayeed Pridgett buckets following the halftime break, but the Wolverines responded with a 10-0 run to put the game away. On consecutive possessions, Jordan Poole knocked down an open corner three, Matthews scored on a baseline out of bounds play, Matthews hit a wing three, and Zavier Simpson threw a sky hook alley-oop to Jon Teske. Montana called timeout, the lead was back to 18, and the game was effectively over.
Matthews scored an efficient 22 points, notched a double-double with 10 rebounds (3 offensive), and looked like the player he was last March during Michigan’s run to the national championship game. He opened the scoring with a putback, spun baseline from a post up and made a reverse layup, cut to the basket for a dish from Teske for a dunk, and bailed out a bad possession with a contested baseline fadeaway to beat the shot clock. He got out in transition for a couple of buckets, got to the free throw line, and showed off a complete offensive game — in addition to his characteristically excellent defense. Matthews’s tournament form takes Michigan to another level, and like last season, his athleticism was way too much for Montana.
The undersized Grizzlies were presented with an extremely difficult challenge offensively and most fared poorly. Montana’s starting guards — Michael Oguine, Ahmaad Rorie, and Tommy Falls — combined to shoot 8-33 from the field and were often leveraged into tough looks. Bobby Moorehead jumped a pass at the top of the key, had a breakaway dunk… and missed it. It was that kind of night. Pridgett, a smaller four and Montana’s top scorer, was guarded by Teske when he was on the floor (Teske sagged off of him) and found some success, finishing with 17 points on as many shot equivalents — he had a few nice drives past Teske, knocked down a couple jumpers, and was the lone bright spot for Montana.
Michigan was content to switch often on defense. Simpson found himself guarding Moorehead (Montana’s wing five) and Pridgett (who posted him up for a bucket in the second half); Teske did well to stay in front of smaller and quicker players, as Montana didn’t have any traditional big men. When they did find decent shots, they often missed — Pridgett was basically dared by Teske to take jumpers, there were plenty of long twos that clanged off the rim, and Montana finished 6-24 from behind the arc (after missing their first ten threes). In last season’s game, the Grizzlies got out to a 10-0 lead and then their offense fell apart. Tonight, Michigan’s defense shut them down for most of the first half before eventually letting up; after the outcome had been decided, Montana scored 20 points over the last ten minutes of the game and closed with a 9-2 run in garbage time.
Despite Michigan’s early dominance on the defensive end, the Wolverines weren’t able to race out to a quick blowout. Michigan actually scored less than a point per possession in the first half (a much better second half pushed them to 1.09 over the entire game — better than the output last season against Montana). Before the break, the Wolverines shot just 2-9 from three-point range and had 8 turnovers. Montana trapped Simpson and other ball-handlers on ball screens again, and while there was often an open man, passes got deflected and turned into turnovers. Simpson had 4 turnovers in the first half after taking care of the ball very well over the last few weeks; in the second half, he was more patient and didn’t have any turnovers. He finished with 10 assists.
Until the reserves checked in after the final TV timeout, Michigan went with the tight, seven-man rotation it featured for much of the season. Isaiah Livers was a natural fit in this game: Montana’s lack of size made him the sensible choice as Teske’s primary backup at the five, and Matthews’s outstanding performance lessened the need for his minutes on the wing. Livers enabled Michigan to switch everything and played pretty well on both ends. Matthews was fantastic, Simpson rarely scored but facilitated effectively, and the rest of the starters each scored in double figures. Michigan didn’t take advantage of Teske’s immense size advantage against the Grizzlies with post ups, but did get him a few looks from the ball screen game. Poole was scoreless at halftime but started the run in the second half and got going a little bit. Ignas Brazdeikis was physical, as always, and surely has some new haters after flexing on Falls late in the game.
In the end, it was a stress-free opening round win. Since Florida held on to advance past Nevada, Michigan will face the Gators on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
[Box score after the JUMP]