Things couldn't have gone any better for the Wolverines in the opening minutes of their first road contest of the season against North Carolina State Monday night. Tommy Amaker's club showed balance out of the gates, getting five early points from both Dion Harris and Ronald Coleman, each of whom knocked down three-pointers along the way. The Wolverines were also very active, especially inside. Michigan's frontcourt players collected five offensive rebounds in the first five minutes. They didn't convert every second chance opportunity, but they were able to build a 16-4 lead with 13:42 to go.
Around that same time the NC State received bad news on the injury front when their point guard and second leading scorer Engin Atsur went down with a hamstring injury. Forced at that point to play without his primary ball-handler and reduced to a rotation that included only six scholarship players, headman Sidney Lowe looked to be in trouble. In this case, though, looks were definitely deceiving.
The Wolfpack employed a zone defensively to slow down the Wolverines, and got more active up front when they got the ball themselves. Michigan played into the home team's hands by launching three-pointers against the zone and committing turnovers in the latter part of the half. Meanwhile, the interior tandem of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner began to present match--up problems for the Maize and Blue big men by going to their face-up games. The duo started a Wolfpack run by scoring eight consecutive points, which included six straight by McCauley. Costner continued the jump-shooting display by later knocking down a three-pointer to help fuel a 31-19 run that sent Lowe's club into the locker room leading 35-28. Costner and McCauley scored nine and eight points respectively in the first half, but that was only a sign of things to come.
"They were very tough because they can put the ball on the floor and drive," Amaker said regarding the Wolfpack frontcourt players. "They are very skilled basketball players. I think they have a very good basketball IQ. You can tell by the way they make passes and move without the ball. I didn't think we guarded them the way that I would like to think we are capable of. But give them credit for making the plays that they did. They showed a lot of basketball savvy tonight."
Things didn't get better on either end of the court for the Wolverines early in the second half. Costner and McCauley continued their torrid pace, this time scoring seven and six points in the first eight minutes of the stanza. On the other end, the Wolverines still had no answer for the zone, going 2/12 over the same period while attempting mostly jumpers. That contributed to a 20-6 Wolfpack run that increased the lead to 21 points (55-34) with just under twelve minutes remaining.
The Wolverines showed some resiliency by mounting furious comeback, thanks in large part to 15 points down the stretch from Dion Harris and hurried possessions on the part of North Carolina State. Unfortunately for Amaker & company, it was too little too late. The Wolverines cut the deficit to as little as four points (71-67) in the waning moments of the contest, but the Wolfpack was able to seal the game from the free throw line to secure a 74-67 victory.
"We certainly came out of the blocks with a lot of energy and steam," Amaker said regarding his Wolverines. "I thought we even had a chance to put them in a deeper hole, but we couldn't convert. It seemed like we couldn't snatch the ball when it was right there for us. There were even some plays that we just couldn't finish that would have helped give us a wider margin in the first half of play. We sort of self-destructed a little bit in the first half and they certainly took advantage of that."
On the game, Dion Harris led all scorers with 24 points and five assists. The Wolfpack had a very balanced scoring sheet featuring four players in double figures. Ben McCauley led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Brandon Costner chipped in with 17 points and 11 boards.
The Wolverines will hit the court again Saturday when they take on Wofford at Crisler Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 2PM.
Be on the lookout later for game commentary from GoBlueWolverine's Andre Barthwell.