ANN ARBOR – On the night before Thanksgiving, as Michigan struggled to eliminate an overwhelmed opponent, Juwan Howard will be grateful for the win.
Michigan handled Jackson State Wednesday, 78-68 at the Crisler Center to go 5-1.
The Wolverines took control in a second-half segment that will need to be duplicated over much longer stretches given the competitive upgrade ahead.
Freshman Jett Howard (19 points) led a balanced attack; five other Wolverines scored between nine and eleven points. Hunter Dickinson had nine points and 12 rebounds.
For much of the game, which ended at 8:37 p.m. ET in front of a modest (but larger than expected) crowd, the Wovlerines couldn’t find a rhythm at either end of the floor. They struggled to hit open 3s, starting 2-of-10 and 4-of-15 from deep.
As in the previous game, an overtime win over Ohio on Sunday night, Michigan had a stretch in the first half when all five starters were on the bench. Wednesday’s substitutes were Dug McDaniel, Joey Baker, Youssef Khayat, Jace Howard and Tarris Reed Jr. The starters returned en masse, with 6:48 at halftime and the score at 20.
Michigan’s defense, so far inconsistent early in the season, shut out the Tigers in the final four minutes of the half to go into halftime with a 37-27 lead.
Just 30 seconds into the second half, following a technical error by Jackson State Coach Mo Williams, Michigan’s free throw took the lead to 13. The lead stayed by that number for the next seven minutes.
Then the Wolverines caught fire. Joey Baker hit back-to-back 3s and a minute later Jett Howard hit from deep. Just like that, midway through the half, Michigan was leading 60-41. A layup by Howard in transition pushed the lead to 21.
Jackson State responded with an 8-0 run that included four free throws from Ken Evans (who finished with 12 points). Kobe Bufkins 3 ended Michigan’s 3.5-minute drought.
Michigan shot 12-for-30 of 3 for the game.
Jackson State, out of the SWAC, fell to 0-4. The Tigers visit Indiana on Friday. They will play 13 straight games away to start the season and not play in Jackson, Mississippi, until Jan. 7.
On Wednesday, they shot 37 percent from the field, including an 8-for-29 mark of 3. Still, they were caught napping in Michigan and got some easy run-outs, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds (to Michigan’s six) and fought to hang out.
Howard’s 3 gave Michigan a 72-55 lead with 2:21 to go before Watson hit consecutive 3s to spark a 10-0 run. Watson finished with 19 points.
Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn went for the foul line with 27 seconds left and did both to take the lead to nine. Watson responded with a three to keep the pressure on.
It wasn’t enough, and Michigan avoided a massive commotion. The Wolverines will be given a few days off on Thanksgiving before returning to training in preparation for a difficult stretch.
Next up is Virginia in fifth place on Tuesday in Crisler, followed by a game against No. 15 Kentucky in London on Dec. 4. Michigan needs to improve significantly to win these games.
Jackson State led midway through the first half despite making just 1 of 7 3-point attempts. A three-pointer from Michigan’s Jace Howard gave the Wolverines an 18-17 lead with 8:37 to go.
After checking back in, Michigan’s starters quickly gave the home team a four-point lead. But Jackson State had enough confidence at this point. A 35-foot alley-oop from Watson to Trace Young (13 points) for an impressive dunk reduced the deficit to 26-24. Watson’s 3 with 4:04 left put the Tigers within one.
They didn’t score the rest of the half. Michigan finished on a 9-0 sprint (17-5 run that continues to decline) to forge a 37-27 halftime advantage. Howard squirted an off balance corner 3 in the final seconds.
It was a matchup of two coaches who had extended their NBA careers with a long list of teams: Howard played 19 seasons for eight teams; Williams watched for seven teams over 13 years.