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Holy Cross forces Michigan to win with smallball

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Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein had his defensive plan set for Holy Cross and its Princeton offense.

The only problem was part of it had to go out the window just three minutes into Saturday’s 56-37 win at Crisler Center.

“The only thing we were prepared for is them to play a pick-and-pop five, which they had not traditionally done because No. 30 (Jehyve Floyd) is so good,” Beilein said. “When he got in foul trouble that was the worst thing that could happen to us.”

Floyd, the reigning Patriot League defensive player of the year and an all-league third team selection last season, picked up two fouls by the 17:07 mark and was replaced by forward Connor Niego for the rest of the half.

All Niego did was come in and splash three 3-pointers — two coming during a 13-0 run — to help give Holy Cross its largest lead of the game, 18-9, at the 11:24 mark.

It led to Beilein predominately rolling with a smaller lineup and utilizing sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at the five in place of junior big man Jon Teske.

“Thank goodness we had the versatility this year to put Isaiah over to the five,” Beilein said. “If youre going to play small, well play small, start switching screens and when they post up Isaiah, we were tough. We didnt let them get the ball in there and score against us.”

Livers checked in off the bench at the 12:31 mark during the middle of Holy Cross’ run and when the Crusaders were in the midst of a 6-for-7 shooting stretch.

Yet, Livers’ ability to guard in the paint and out on the perimeter helped change the complexion of the game. When Teske was on the floor, Holy Cross had some success by spreading Michigan out. But with Livers, the Crusaders struggled to get any open looks and they shot just 3-for-10 the rest of the half.

“We couldnt stop them at that point because the kid (Niego) was on fire,” Beilein said. “We tried to prepare for about everything and I mean theres 100 things they could do and we probably had 40 or 50 we had either guarded in practice not great, but we had done it. We werent ready for that so just being able to do that simplified things and we just switched everything.”

While freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews were the top performers, Livers’ performance during the final 10 minutes of the second half turned out to be key stretch that can’t be overlooked.

“That was big for us because they have five guys who can shoot the ball and attack,” Brazdeikis said. “Isaiah is a big guy, Im a big guy, Charles is a big guy and we can rebound the ball really well and staying in front of them wasnt an issue at all. Having all five of us rebound the ball and push the ball offensively really slowed them down.”

 

Lasting mementos

Prior to the game, Michigan held a video tribute for Beilein’s 800th collegiate win that featured messages from past greats (Glen Rice, Phil Hubbard, Rob Pelinka, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Cazzie Russell), former players (Tim Hardaway Jr., Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner) and family (son Patrick Beilein).

After the video montage, Beilein wiped a tear away from his eye before receiving a commemorative basketball at midcourt to a standing ovation.

“That was emotional for me. I didnt expect that. I didnt know what was going on,” Beilein said. “I knew that they were going to give me a ball and they said theres a video, too. And then to have all those guys talk, that was really — it got to me a little bit.

“I’m so thankful that they were so nice to do that and you know how I felt about it last week. Its certainly a great accomplishment for whoever has been around me for those 800, including (wife) Kathleen to be with us in that is really something. That was well done, I thought. That was pretty neat. I might watch it again one day.”

At halftime, a speed painter also painted a portrait of Beilein along with the number “800” and presented it to him after the game.

“You didnt have to be so hard on the high forehead,” Beilein quipped when he saw it for the first time before his postgame presser. “Lets put that as soon as we come in the house she (Kathleen) can look at me every minute.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

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