It took a while — and some would say too long — for the Michigan men’s basketball team to assert any form of dominance against winless Jackson State. The horrors of the Wolverines, who nearly lost to Ohio, another mid-major, their last time out, were back for much of the first half.

But Michigan (5-1 overall) shook off a slow start against the Tigers (0-4) en route to a 78-68 victory Wednesday night.

“It’s still early in the season,” Michigan State coach Juwan Howard said. “I’m sure a lot of teams like us aren’t playing their best basketball, and we’re going to get better and better game by game.”

The Wolverines certainly didn’t play their best basketball Wednesday, especially early. To begin with, they built a wall – but not a defensive one. Michigan made one three-pointer after another from all over the arc. Regardless of the venue, the Wolverines are fully committed to long range shooting and it was to no avail. They opened 1-for-6 from deep, with six of their first seven shots being 3-pointers.

“Offensively, I know those guys are great shooters,” rookie wing Jett Howard confirmed after the game. “It’s not going to fall every night. And you don’t want to undermine our confidence either, so you’ll make an open strike anyway.’

Whether open or contested, Michigan threw brick after brick early while Jackson State played hard.

Literally from the opening moment, when Tiger tried to chase down a lost tip in the Wolverines’ backfield, Jackson State was sharp. Although it also opened up from the field, the Tigers stayed in it with a high-intensity game, creating extra possessions while disrupting Michigan’s offense every time it looked for baskets from the three-point line.

Thanks to timely buckets and a flurry of turnovers by the Wolverines, Jackson State kept Michigan on edge for the first 15 minutes. Whether it was a dunk in transition by winger Trace Young or simply not backing down in front of taller defenders, the Tigers had Crisler Center on edge.

No matter the opponent, no matter the record, keep the basketball game tight and it can go either way. So, in perhaps the shortest amount of time, Michigan took control.

The Wolverines finally pulled together, holding Jackson State scoreless for the final four minutes of the first half. At the other end of the pitch, their attack finally found some rhythm. At the start of that stretch, Jett was set up to shoot free throws, but Juwan yelled at his five players on the floor, including Jett, to come talk to him first. Michigan got hot after that, ending the half with a 9-0 run, capped by a tough step-back 3-pointer in the corner by Jett to make it 37-27 and create a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn said Juwan’s message in that meeting on the court was to focus on playing harder, especially on defense. Jett, who sat next to Llewellyn after the game, offered more nuance.

“(Llewellyn) just translated the clean part,” Jett said with a smile. “I (won’t) say exactly what (Juwan) said.”

Whatever Juvan’s message was, it came at an opportune time. The Wolverines remained comfortable in the driver’s seat as the game wore on, ensuring they completely shook off a slow start. The Tigers’ passes, which were crisp early on, were intercepted or blown out of bounds as the inning wore on.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s three-pointers began to fall with some consistency. Back-to-back 3-pointers from towering guard Joey Baker — right after a 3-pointer from Jett that prompted him to high-five Juan in celebration on his way down the court — highlighted the Wolverines’ 50 percent shooting from deep in the second half, putting Jackson State out of reach.

And suddenly, the once-upset Tigers looked unrecognizable from their former self — and so did once-limping Michigan, as it looked more composed.

“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to get into a rhythm, both offensively and defensively,” Jett said. “Hopefully we’ll be better by January, but we’re working hard.”

January may seem like a long way off, but winter is upon us — and the Wolverine schedule is quickly ramping up.

For Michigan to have long-term success, it will need to avoid the slow starts it gave up to handle a subpar team.

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