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After freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis had his lowest point total against Western Michigan, he came back in a big way against Air Force Saturday.
With Michigan’s offense struggling against the Falcons in the second-to-last nonconference game of the season, the Wolverines turned to their freshman phenom.
His team-high 19 points helped Michigan defeat Air Force 71-50 to move to 12-0 on the season.
After missing five out of seven shots against Western Michigan, Brazdeikis made seven out of 13 Saturday against the Falcons. He got back on track scoring the ball for the Wolverines with most of his damage coming from two-point range.
Like the rest of the team, Brazdeikis struggled in the first half with 14 of his 19 points coming in the second half. After shooting 39.3 percent from the field in the first half, Michigan hit 53.1 percent of its shots in the second half.
Michigan head coach John Beilein had a message for his team at halftime that worked.
“We went into half after that first half and Coach Beilein just told us, ‘Why are you guys thinking so much before you shoot the ball. Shoot the ball with confidence,’” sophomore forward Isiah Livers said. “Just those little words was key for us.”
Livers said that when you hear that from his head coach, it’s hard not to play with confidence in the second half.
While Michigan was missing threes in the second half, Beilein was ok with those looks.
“He was fine with them,” Livers said. “Coach Beilein loves his threes, but he doesn’t love three-point shooters that don’t have confidence in themselves.”
Beilein’s halftime message was to stay positive, even though Michigan wasn’t playing well.
“Just keep pushing,” redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews said. “We weren’t going to hang our heads because we didn’t have to first that we wanted to. So we had to take care of the ball.”
Michigan had eight turnovers in the first half and cut that number to three in the second half.
“After halftime, Coach B said we had too many turnovers,” Livers said. “We were doing too much one-on-one trying to get to the basket. Once we came out in the second half, played team ball, the three balls were falling, getting to the free throw line getting easy baskets.”
Air Force wasn’t an easy team to go against. Livers said they were keeping Michigan on its toes by running something different defensively every time the court. On offense, they ran the shot clock down on each possession.
“They back cut, they don’t take shots until the end of the shot clock every time,” Livers said. “So, we had to get stops and then go run on offense. We would take a quick shot then go right back on defense. We credit our strength and conditioning coach for getting us where we are.”
While Air Force was a lesser foe, Michigan didn’t take them lightly.
“We come prepared to play against anybody,” Matthews said. “We don’t just come and get hyped for a big game and take these people lightly. They’ve been playing us well and we haven’t been making as many shots as we’ve wanted to.”