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Final Four banner, explosive 2nd half punctuate victorious opener

By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 8, 2013

In anticipation of the 2013 Final Four banner being raised to the Crisler Center rafters on Friday, Michigan coach John Beilein conceded that his thoughts weren’t squarely on reflection during previous banner-raising ceremonies.

Sure, he’d think about Trey Burke’s 30-footer against Kansas in the Sweet 16 or Mitch McGary’s coming out party against Virginia Commonwealth, or even Jordan Morgan’s missed tip-in against Indiana to lose the Big Ten. But he’d also think about the mechanics of the banner-raising. In classic Beilein fashion, he wasn’t as interested in the result as the process.

“I’m always looking at it and saying, how do they do that?” Beilein said on Thursday. “Who’s pulling those pulleys? How does it all work?”

So if the end result was a 69-42 win over UMass Lowell in the season opener, Beilein would be pleased with the process in the second half and not so much the first.

After the River Hawks rallied to tie it at halftime, Michigan took off at the outset of the second half, putting together a 17-0 run and ending any UMass Lowell hopes of an upset.

Guard Caris LeVert scored a game-high 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting. LeVert, who had come off the bench in the two exhibition games this season, had forced Beilein’s hand in shaking up the starting lineup to get the sophomore more minutes. Beilein eschewed the two-big man lineup to get an extra guard on the floor alongside freshman point guard Derrick Walton, sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III and redshirt junior center Jon Horford.

“As we went through this thing, we had 30 practice days of trying to find some way to play with two big guys,” Beilein said. “And really it’s not about that. It was about Caris LeVert. Let’s get him on the floor any way that we can. That’s a lineup that you’ll probably see quite a bit this year at different times while we wait for Mitch’s return.”

Robinson started at the “4,” rather than his desired spot on the wing because of Mitch McGary’s back injury, and he filled up the box score efficiently with 15 points on just eight field-goal attempts. He added seven rebounds. Though he passed up the NBA to return for his sophomore year with the stated purpose of playing the “3,” he understands the extenuating circumstances.

“It’s not disappointing to me,” Robinson said about the position change. “I want to do whatever to help the team. It’s hard to keep Caris off the floor, so if we have to have this lineup to keep Caris on the floor, that’s what I’ll do.”

As tension started to rise in Crisler with the River Hawks giving the Wolverines (1-0) a run for their money early, Michigan put to use a high-flying, fast-paced transition game to assuage fans’ stress sooner than later in the second half. When Michigan didn’t finish, UMass Lowell helped out, fouling 13 times in the half. The Wolverines took 32 free throws and made 24 of them on the game.

“I think fatigue had a little bit to do with it,” said UMass Lowell point guard Akeem Williams. “We got a little tired and they’re just relentless. Once they have a lead, they’re not giving that lead up.”

Elsewhere, the stats weren’t as gaudy. Only three players scored in double figures and only LeVert and Robinson were in the teens.

The opening minutes unfolded how most expected. Aside from a 3-point attempt from Horford to kick off the season, all seemed right as Michigan raced out to an 8-0 lead.

But turnovers and missed opportunities around the basket slowed the Michigan attack, allowing the Red Hawks (0-1) to get back in contention, tying the game at 23 by halftime.

“It was a stagnant first half, that’s for sure,” Beilein said. “The offense had to make a couple shots. The guys that are out there on that floor right now, they had a couple good games, but they never had to make those big plays in games that Trey (Burke) and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) used to always make.”

In the sluggish first half, only three players scored a point — the three sophomore starters in Robinson, LeVert and Stauskas.

As the lead expanded to double digits, and then 20 points and eventually 27 points, the highlights got better and there was more to show off.

Horford flashed a vicious dunk. LeVert made an up-and-under and-one play. Sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht hit a long, contested 3-pointer.