ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For a little while, Michigan had concern.
It couldn’t hit anything inside of the 3-point line. It allowed easy offensive rebounds. And it looked like the return of the very average Michigan team from the beginning of the season had returned.
Then something changed. Michigan stopped giving up easy second chances. It found more scoring and started to bounce out on the fast break, leading to a 77-66 win over Bradley on Thursday night in the final game before the Big Ten season begins next week.
“Just played team ball out there tonight,” freshman guard Trey Burke said. “Evan (Smotrycz) had a heck of a night tonight and we found him the comfortable spots where he was most comfortable at.
“And he made the defense pay.”
In all, Michigan had a season-high 25 assists Thursday night, usually a staple of a good performance from a John Beilein-coached team.
Player of the Game
Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz continued his torrid pace through the final stretches of the non-conference schedule on Thursday night against Bradley. He finished by tying his career-high with 20 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds for the second double-double of his career. He has been by far the Wolverines’ best player over the past four games, shooting 22 of 30 from the field, 15 of 19 from the 3-point line and has grabbed 38 rebounds to go along with his 18.25 points-per-game average over the last four games.
“Personally I feel like every shot I take is going to go in because that’s the kind of guy I am,” Smotrycz said. “If I miss one, that’s the past. I try to have no conscience when it comes to that.”
This has been exactly what Beilein had hoped for when he recruited Smotrycz out of Reading, Mass. -- a player who could have both an inside-outside presence, kind of like his previous cult-hero forward, Kevin Pittsnogle.
If Smotrycz, who has an equally eyebrow-raising last name, continues on this pace, he’ll become for this Michigan team what Pittsnogle was at West Virginia.
What has stood out the most has been his rebounding, which was somewhat unexpected.
“He’s playing with a confidence,” Beilein said. “We all knew he could shoot, but it’s the rebounds and the rebounds below the rim and he has great hands.
“It’s been a big difference for us.”
The game was sealed when...
After a sluggish first half where the Wolverines were making shots from outside the 3-point line but couldn’t hit anything inside of it, a 26-11 run midway through the second half broke the game open for Michigan.
That spurt was maybe the best Michigan played this season.
“Oakland was similar in the second half, and in Maui we played our best basketball for the whole 40 minutes of each game,” Hardaway Jr. said. “But this gives us confidence going into the Big Ten season.”
Michigan sophomore forward Jon Horford missed his third straight game with a stress injury in his right foot. He didn’t dress either, instead going with a sweater/slacks combination. ... Michigan’s players now head home for the holidays after a two-hour practice Friday morning and will return to Ann Arbor on Dec. 26 to prepare for the Big Ten opener against Penn State Dec. 29. ... Burke had eight assists, one off his career high. Burke has 60 assists in the non-conference season and extrapolated out to the Big Ten season, he could have 155 assists at the conclusion of the regular season if he keeps up his average of five assists a game.