MILWAUKEE — While Michigan didn’t have a particularly pretty start to its NCAA tournament, coach John Beilein felt his team proved a point to the rest of the field on Thursday night.
Yes, they can play defense too.
Glenn Robinson III scored 14 points in the arena his father used to call home in the NBA, Jordan Morgan added 10 points and 10 rebounds, and the second-seeded Wolverines held No. 15 seed Wofford to 34 percent shooting in a 57-40 win.
“We were able to get a win basically with our defense today,” Beilein said, “and that’s something a lot of people wouldn’t say if they watched us this year.”
However the method, what mattered most was that Michigan is still in the hunt to return to the Final Four in spite of pesky Wofford’s best efforts.
Michigan (26-8) capitalized on its decisive edge in athleticism on the undersized Terriers (20-13) but had some nervous moments after missing 15 of their first 18 shots in the second half.
Karl Cochran’s 3 with 9:25 left whittled an 18-point deficit to 40-33 — the only 3 Wofford hit all night.
But the Wolverines regrouped, and Caris LeVert’s 3 with 4:17 left gave them a 15-point lead to deflate Wofford’s dreams of an upset.
“We know we’re pretty efficient offensively. Most times we don’t have trouble scoring the basketball,” said Morgan, whose hustle in the paint helped turn away Wofford. “We know we’re only going to go as far as our defense carries us.”
When it counted, Michigan exerted its will on an overmatched opponent.
Shooting 1 of 19 from 3-point range didn’t help Wofford, either. But the Terriers knew they were heavy underdogs coming into the game, and they exit the NCAAs with an appreciation of simply getting into the tournament.
When players were asked why they shot so poorly from behind the arc, forward Lee Skinner spoke up first and said “I don’t shoot from the 3-point line” before drawing some smiles.
A 39 percent shooter from long range on the season, Cochran finished with 17 points on 1-of-10 shooting from 3-point territory on Thursday and 8 of 21 overall.
“Some nights unfortunately the ball doesn’t drop in the basket,” he said. “Unfortunately we just faced a tough night from the 3-point line.”
Nik Stauskas had 15 points for the Wolverines, while Robinson hit big shots in the same arena his father played in while with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s.
The elder Robinson, sitting in the Bradley Center stands, surely was impressed with Wofford, the Southern Conference champions who hustled to the final buzzer.
Michigan opened the second half shooting 2 of 12, and Cochran’s 3 with 9:25 left got Wofford within seven points. Even the crowd broke out into a “Let’s Go Wofford!” chant.
“Hats off to them,” Beilein said. “I was a coach that was today very concerned about how well they would guard us, and they did.”
As if flipping on a switch, the Wolverines then turned up their intensity. Morgan glided in for a basket and Robinson followed with a tip-in.
“Inside, they were a bigger team, they were physical,” Skinner said.
After a missed jumper by Spencer Collins, LeVert hit his 3 from the top of the circle to get the lead back to 15.
Michigan shot 33 percent in the second half after shooting 63 percent in the first.
Fortunately for Beilein, his defense held firm. He said it was an emphasis in practice all week.
“That probably was our best defensive performance overall for everybody,” said Beilein.
The spunky Terriers fell well short of their goal of the perfect game required to have any shot at taking down Michigan, though they played with energy most of the night and never seemed intimidated.
“You always have to keep an optimistic mindset, especially in an off night,” Cochran said.
Smiling two seats away, coach Mike Young appreciated the positive vibes.
“I’m beaming with pride with these guys sitting to my left and their accomplishments,” he said. “So, we’ll walk out of here with our head high.”
Michigan was never truly threatened in spite of Wofford’s second-half spurt, leading 34-20 at halftime thanks in part to 11 points from Robinson.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP