Michigan's match-up with the Grand Valley State Lakers Saturday afternoon served as a nice early season reminder for the Wolverines that basketball games are 40 minutes long. Through 32 of those minutes the Maize and Blue overcame their lack of ball security and the offensive struggles of Dion Harris (who didn't score) to earn a 24-point lead. At that stage, though, many on the home team let up… and it almost cost them.
"I think it was lack of energy by us…and lack of execution," said senior forward Chris Hunter. "We kind of took a sigh of relief and they took advantage of it. They made some shots and got it going. It was kind of tough to slow them down once they got it going like that. In practice we've been practicing very well, but it's always different when you go out there and compete against someone other than yourself. I think as we continue to compete against other people we'll get it."
That post game admission came from a player that appeared to maintain his intensity throughout the entire game. Hunter scored 15 points, grabbed six boards, blocked two shots and had three steals on the night. His most impressive play was a first half block of a point-blank dunk attempt by Laker center Callistus Eziwuku. Hunter made a concerted effort to give the team a little fire when he entered the game, and it showed. "I just wanted to come in and try to help the team…come off the bench with a little spark," Hunter said. "Usually that role is for Brent Petway but I'm trying to fill his void a little bit and just come in and do whatever defensively. Offensively, I just tried to make some things happen as well."
Maligned in the past for a lack of passion, his one game display of that trait was encouraging. His performance certainly caught the attention of his head coach. "I thought Chris played very well," Michigan headman Tommy Amaker said. "I thought he did some really good things. The main thing to me was the rebounds and the free throw shooting…finishing around the bucket a few times and the offensive boards. I thought he was very productive for our team. He looked like a senior. He played like a senior. He looked like he was a veteran ball player, and it was nice to see that."
According to Hunter, the fact that he has been through the battles so many times in the past definitely has a great deal to do with how he feels heading into this season. "I think this year I just know what to do," he said. "I'm a lot more confident. I think the game has slowed down tremendously for me this year. It's my last year and you have to go out there and play like that."
One of the areas in which that confidence really manifested itself Saturday was in his three-point shooting. The 6-11, 225-pounder was 2/3 from beyond the arc, and he didn't offer a moment's hesitation on any one of those shots. While he certainly took a few last year, he looked much more certain about the shots and they certainly had more rhythm to them on Saturday. "It something that we practice and it's something coach wants me to do," Hunter said regarding his three point shooting. "If the big men want to sluff down, shoot that shot. I've proved that I can make it and hopefully I keep on shooting it well."
While Hunter stopped short of saying he had the green-light from long range, it's clear that Amaker has loosened the reins a bit. His effectiveness as a high post shooter is one of the offensive keys this season, and the Indiana native knows it. "I worked on it and last year he gave me a little more freedom to shoot it and I made some shots from three," Hunter said regarding his jump shooting. "You have to work for it with coach. This year he gave me a lot of freedom. If I have my feet set and the big men are sluffing down, I can knock that shot down."
If Saturday's performance is any indication, those opposing big men won't be sluffing for long.