UM-Dearborn’s method to their success stemmed from their team spirit. When sophomore Elwood Tomlinson scored the team’s 100th point, and his first three-pointer of the game from the left-wing, the bench serenaded with cheers, high-fives, and chest-bumps. The joy they played with, above all, propelled them to win their home opener.
The reigning 2018 WHAC (Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference) tournament champs began their 2019-2020 season on Saturday at the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse, with an emphatic win over Grace Christian University.
The Wolverines had four scorers in double digits, including 6’4 sophomore Zach Lattimer who led all scorers with 29, en route to a 100-59 win. A couple of heat-check three-pointers helped push the lead 50-28 to end the first half. Lattimer hit 9 of the team’s 13 three-pointers — which ties a program record set in 1997 by Hall-of-Famer Patrick Huges — and shot 10/16 overall from the field.
Equally impressive was the team’s stifling defense, which led to 12 steals and 21 points off turnovers. Playing with much determination and hustle, the team also out-rebounded Grace 46-28.
Grace Christian University fought hard, nearly equaling the amount of second-chance points as the Wolverines, 14-13. The team had three scorers in double digits, including sophomore Jerome Cobb, who scored 5 of 6 field goals, and seniors Adam Kregel and Brandon Winchester-Jones, all tied for 10 points. For this young team, the focus they played with and the never-give-up attitude will suit them well beyond this game and for the rest of their season.
Three major takeaways from Saturday’s game for the Wolverines:
- Offense (Ball movement, put backs, 3-pt shooting)
The most impressive aspect from this game was the team’s ball movement. On nearly every possession, the ball touched at least four Wolverines’ hands before a shot went up. When Lattimer’s shot tailored off toward the second half, he started looking for the pass to keep the defense scrambling.
Junior guard Jalen Paul contributed 12 of the team’s 28 assists. The team’s 42 points in the paint combined with their prolific three-point shooting performance diversified the types of shots they were able to generate for their offense.
- Defense (forcing turnovers, active hands, crashing the boards)
On-ball pressure was certainly a big focus for the Wolverines. Paul contributed 3 of the 12 steals for the team. UM-Dearborn contested nearly every shot, and hounded ball-handlers passing half-court, which made it difficult for Grace to find a consistent groove on the offensive end.
The defensive approach in this game was palpable for every player, including freshman guard Spencer Robinson. Near the end of the game, Robinson had a defensive sequence where it appeared as if he enjoyed playing defense more, stopping his opponent than anything else. After applying on-ball pressure, and forcing a miss, Robinson was seen clapping his hands, proud that he got the better of his defensive assignment.
- Improvements (Finishing around the rim stronger, shot selection, and forcing the pass)
A few things the Wolverines can tighten up heading into their next game is finishing around the rim stronger, including some missed floaters, and shots from point-blank range. Shot selection could also be improved.
The good thing is that the team didn’t hesitate to feed the hot-hand, which showed their unselfishness as a team. Ball movement led to Lattimer’s open shots, although a couple of forced shots slowed the offense down, slightly.
And finally, forcing passes in congested lanes is certainly a point of emphasis for the team. On a few sequences, the team had given up a good shot to look for a higher-percentage shot, but oftentimes over a lanky defender with active hands.
Overall, the team was certainly impressive and looked exactly like WHAC tournaments champs.
The Wolverines hadn’t scored 100 points at any point during the last season, and they cracked it in the first game of the new season. Perhaps this may be an excellent indicator for this team to repeat as WHAC tournament champs.
The Wolverines will certainly need to continue adding to their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses in order to beat Holy Cross College, whom they lost to 70-53 last season. The key will be to play with the same edge and intensity as a selfless group, evident by their team spirit.
The team will travel to Notre Dame, Indiana to play on Tuesday at 7 p.m.