ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There were flashes when the Michigan basketball team looked like the No. 17 team in the country. But they were few and far between as Michigan squeaked by Western Illinois, 59-55, on Thursday night.
"We were average in both halves," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "So that was complete. We were very average in both halves."
Michigan was outrebounded 27-22, as the Wolverines continued to try and find consistency in their post play. Redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan made his second start of the season and grabbed five boards, but he also picked up four fouls in the process. He worked hard to front Western Illinois' 6-foot-7 forward Terell Parks throughout most of the game, but Parks beat Morgan on the glass -- even when Parks wasn't getting the rebound, he made sure Morgan wasn't either.
But Beilein was pleased with the 20 turnovers the Wolverines' defense forced, though he was not pleased with the defense as a whole.
Senior guard Zack Novak noted that several of Western Illinois' points were contested by the Michigan defense, but not nearly enough as the Leathernecks shot 49 percent from the floor in the game, and 56 percent from behind the 3-point arc in the first half.
Additionally, the Wolverines struggled with their transition game out of their defense -- only scoring two fast-break points -- which Novak attributed to Western Illinois' offensive play.
"They just executed," Novak said. "I think they knew that was part of our gameplan [to run]. If we don't get stops then we can't run."
At halftime, the game was tied at 28-28, but the Wolverines came out and attacked the basket, forcing Western Illinois to commit several early fouls. The Wolverines had relied on outside shooting in the first half, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line, but that production slowed in the second as Western Illinois stretched its defense and Michigan worked its game into the lane. In the second half, the Wolverines scored 14 of their 31 points in the paint.
"We just have to get in a groove," Beilein said. "We're not overly athletic. If we don't shoot the ball well we've never been very good. We have to do simple things like that."
But the troubles seemed far too consistent and the "simple things" that create composed play seemed far too inconsistent for the Wolverines to be looking complacent as they prepare to play Memphis in the Maui Invitational on Monday.
"We'll be playing incredible quickness, incredible length," Beilein said of the Maui Invitational. "It's going to be very difficult to do. … When it's all said and done there will be tremendous growth no matter how we do. We'd just like it to be where we get some wins it in."
Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.