PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — Four minutes in, it seemed the Michigan men’s basketball team had righted the ship.
Less than a week after being manhandled by Xavier on their own floor, the Wolverines opened their three-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis with rhythm, energy and poise. In the opening sequence against No. 18 Connecticut on Wednesday, Michigan pulled down four offensive rebounds, distributed the ball efficiently and took a 9-3 lead.
For a moment, it seemed the Wolverines could handle a sizable inside presence, move the ball crisply in the backcourt and finish in transition. Then Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie called a timeout to talk things over before Michigan could further extend its early advantage.
When play resumed, Michigan had forgotten how to shoot.
The Wolverines made just four field goals in a span of 16 minutes to finish the half, and the Huskies took advantage, going on a 33-13 run to close the period. The comeback elicited a roar from the hundreds of Connecticut fans inside Imperial Arena, a hotel ballroom-turned-basketball arena that played host to 2,491 for Wednesday night’s finale.
Things didn’t get any better in the second period for Michigan in the 74-60 loss. Redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson and junior forward Zak Irvin — widely known to be two of the Wolverines’ best shooters — managed a combined 1-for-12 from 3-point range.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see that (again) in anybody’s lifetime,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
The woes extended far beyond that pair, as the Wolverines collectively shot 8-for-29 from beyond the arc and just 32.1 percent from the field.
For the second game in a row, senior guard Caris LeVert proved to be Michigan’s only consistent scoring option, and attempted to put the team on his back down double digits in the second half. He finished with 21 points, and that’s after Beilein held steadfastly to his rule of benching players once they pick up two personal fouls in the first half.
“We’re virtually handcuffed if he gets that third foul,” Beilein said.
LeVert was never handcuffed, but he was briefly foot-cuffed at one point. In a sign that nothing at all was going the Wolverines’ way, his shoe broke within seconds of a 3-pointer from Aubrey Dawkins. A frustrated LeVert was left unable to stop a Connecticut fast break, one of many that resulted from made or (more often) missed shots from distance.
“We would like to get to the rim a little more,” LeVert said. “We shot some quick 3-pointers, which led to some easy baskets for them.”
Despite a result not all that different from Friday’s loss to Xavier, Beilein did make a significant starting lineup change against the Huskies, giving the nod to sophomore forward Ricky Doyle at the ‘5’ spot instead of junior Mark Donnal. More surprising was that freshman Moritz Wagner — not Donnal or redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson — was first off the bench in that role.
Wagner replaced Doyle just under six minutes into the first half, and Wilson was next to provide minutes at the position. Donnal did not appear in the game.
If there’s a silver lining for the Wolverines, it’s that their rotation has finally taken shape. Michigan did turn on the jets in the second half, coming all the way back from a 22-point deficit to close the lead to eight with under four minutes remaining.
The Wolverines didn’t get any closer, and will be left to salvage their Bahamas trip beginning with a matchup against Charlotte tomorrow, then a finale Friday against either Texas or Washington.