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'A win is a win': Michigan overcomes slow start, shaky finish to top Jackson State

Ann Arbor — The Wolverines had an opportunity to feast on a cupcake on Thanksgiving Eve and ride into the holiday break on a high.

Though they took their time pulling away from an overmatched opponent, they’re still thankful for one thing — another win.

Michigan had some shaky stretches early and late but leaned on a balanced effort to get the job done against Jackson State, 78-68, on Wednesday at Crisler Center.

More:BOX SCORE: Michigan 78, Jackson State 68

“(We’re) continuing to work on defense and playing hard and communicating is a big area of emphasis,” said grad transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn, who made six free throws in the final 27 seconds to stave off a late push by the Tigers.

“We're trying to focus on it in practice, but a win is a win. We can learn a lot from wins and losses, so we're taking it step by step.”

Freshman wing Jett Howard finished with 19 points, junior forward Terrance Williams II added 11 and sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin had 10 for Michigan (5-1), which got off to a rough shooting start but finished 42.4% from the field (25-for-59) with 12 made 3-pointers.

Following a strong close to the first half, Michigan tightened things up on defense and used a 3-pointer from Williams and a driving layup from Howard to extend the lead to 47-32 with 15:55 to play.

Jackson State (0-4) threatened to cut the deficit to single digits, but Michigan kept the Tigers at bay as the deep balls started rolling in. When they pulled within 11, Howard splashed a 3-pointer. When they cut it to 12, grad transfer wing Joey Baker drilled a 3-pointer from the wing.

Michigan took its largest lead, 64-43, when Howard capped a 13-4 flurry with a driving layup at the 8:49 mark, but Jackson State refused to go down without a fight. The Tigers clawed back with eight unanswered points to trim the deficit to 13 before Bufkin stemmed the tide with a 3-pointer, making it a 16-point game with 5:18 to play.

Jackson State had one last push in it, stringing together a 13-2 run to cut it to 74-68 with 22 seconds remaining. But the Tigers couldn't get any closer as Llewellyn made enough free throws to seal it despite the Wolverines’ sloppy finish.

Junior center Hunter Dickinson finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. He briefly went back to the locker room in the first half and had his upper leg/hip area looked at by a trainer on the sidelines, but he returned to action and logged 28 minutes.

Gabe Watson scored 19, Trace Young had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Ken Evans scored 12 for Jackson State. The Tigers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and shot 37% from the field (27-for-73) and 27.6% from 3-point range (8-for-29).

“We're not where we want to be defensively,” Howard said. “Offensively, I know these guys are great shooters. It's not going to fall every night. You don't want to take and shoot our confidence down either, so you're still going to take the open shot.

“At the end of the day, we're just trying to get in rhythm on the offensive end and defensive end. Hopefully we're better by January.”

Neither team could get much going on offense early on. Jackson State was off the mark on seven of its first 10 shots. Michigan clanked 10 of its first 12 attempts, with many coming from 3-point range. Both sides didn't reach double figures in scoring until roughly eight minutes into the first half.

As Jackson State kept hanging around, Michigan received a boost from the second unit led by freshman guard Dug McDaniel. He helped the Wolverines take their first lead when he found junior forward Jace Howard for a 3-pointer to make it 18-17 at the 8:37 mark.

When Dickinson and the rest of the starters checked back in at the 6:48 mark, they shook off the sluggish start and closed the half on a 17-5 run. Howard capped the spurt with a step-back 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give Michigan a 37-27 advantage at the break.

The Wolverines maintained that double-digit lead until the final minute. Now, they'll get a few days off to rest and reset ahead of next week's high-profile matchups against Virginia and Kentucky.

“The first five minutes, the ball wasn’t going in but we still were playing hard,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “The last five minutes, they made some shots and there were a couple turnovers by us that were uncharacteristic.

"It's early in the season. I'm sure a lot of teams like us are not playing their best basketball. We will get better and better game by game."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins