- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A season ago, Michigan would have brushed this off as a win is a win, no matter how it comes.
Not this season.
The No. 20 Wolverines seemed disappointed in their 63-50 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday night, mostly because of a second-half swoon that cut the lead in half and turned into a sloppy game.
“A win is a win but we’re trying to keep getting better,” sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz said. “Our goal is win championships and we won’t win playing like that so we’re not going to settle for anything less.”
Michigan knows it needs to improve from this as Big Ten play looms in a little over two weeks. But for now, they’ll begrudgingly take it.
“We had far too many turnovers in the second half to get away from them,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “That’s the way it happens sometimes. We just have to keep getting better.”
Player of the Game: Three candidates, really. Arkansas-Pine Bluff was blown out, but junior guard Lazabian Jackson had a career night with 23 points. Freshman point guard Trey Burke had 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds -- perhaps his most complete game thus far this season. But Smotrycz had the best game of any Michigan player, at least before it got sloppy in the second half. Smotrycz had 16 points and eight rebounds. He even cured his free-throw woes, making all five of his attempts.
“I’m working on it,” Smotrycz said. “It’s coming, I guess. I was able to knock down my free throws for once, which has really been frustrating. It’s good to get easy ones, easy layups, to get yourself going a little bit.”
Michigan again let up when it had a big lead, perhaps starting a trend for the season. The Wolverines were up big against Towson on Nov. 14 and Iowa State on Dec. 3 and let both teams back into the game. Tuesday night against Arkansas-Pine Bluff wasn’t that dramatic, but the Wolverines did let a 25-point lead shrink down to the 13-point final margin.
“We have a tendency to take our foot off the pedal a little bit,” Smotrycz said. “Turnovers were a huge part in it today. Personally I had too many turnovers.
“But we’re still learning, still somewhat young. But we’re not going to win championships doing stuff like that.”
The turnovers were especially concerning. Michigan had 19 in all, led by Smotrycz with five. The Wolverines were also outscored in the second half for only the third time this season.
“We made it through that,” Beilein said. “That’ll be officially the last game we’ll ever win when we have 19 turnovers this year. I don’t predict that happening again.”
With five rebounds, senior guard Zack Novak entered the 500 rebound club at Michigan and now has 504. He remains in 38th place all-time, 10 behind Ernest Johnson, who had 514 rebounds from 1970-73. “Rebounds, we say that’s the one selfish stat, go grab all the rebounds you can and it helps the team, the more rebounds you can get,” Novak said. “So it’s important in terms of helping the team do that. But as far as meeting a milestone personally, you know how I am, whatever.” ... Michigan emptied its bench for the third time this season, although Beilein was hoping to do it sooner than in the final minutes. ... Arkansas-Pine Bluff is in the middle of a 15-game, 10-state road trip. Tuesday night was the seventh game of that swing. ... Tim Hardaway Jr. injured his tailbone on a fall while committing a foul late in the first half. Beilein said the sophomore guard was sore, but he played in the second half and expects he’ll be fine.