Wolverines plagued by first-half offensive woes
It was as joyous as it was ironic.
Halfway through the first half of Sunday’s game against Rutgers, two Michigan greats — current guard Katelynn Flaherty from the women’s team and former forward Glen Rice from the men’s — were being honored at Crisler Center as the leading scorers in Wolverine basketball history.
Shortly after, the men’s basketball team jogged to the tunnel for halftime after scoring just 27 points — its third-lowest first half point total of the season. The fewest and second-fewest totals came in the previous two games against Nebraska and Maryland.
“We’re kinda used to it now, right?” joked junior forward Moritz Wagner.
The platitudes and jests don’t do justice to how No. 23 Michigan has performed recently — its offense is non-existent, especially in the first half.
After upsetting then-No. 4 Michigan State on Jan. 13, the Wolverines were averaging 76.7 points a game. In their following three contests, they have been averaging 60.7, largely influenced by poor starts.
Sunday, of course, exacerbated this notion. A 1-for-11 performance to kick off the game had Michigan coach John Beilein burying his face in his palms, while assistant coaches Luke Yaklich and DeAndre Haynes were standing and barking orders at their players. An eventual 62-47 victory rested more in the hands of the Scarlet Knights’ ineptitude than the Wolverines’ talent.
But, like Nebraska and Maryland, Rutgers was capitalizing on Michigan’s predictability.
“Again, another team switched every ball screen — most of them — so we’re trying to figure it out,” Beilein said. “I can’t put my finger on that, but hopefully we’ll have better starts going forward.”
Added fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson: “There’s some really good coaches in this league. We gotta realize as a team that teams aren’t gonna just let us do what we wanna do. They’ll take away our first, second and sometimes our third option. Adjusting to that (is needed) and being aggressive in different ways than our prep.”
The Wolverines have shown that they are capable of making some of these adjustments in the second half. For the past six games, Michigan has improved upon its first half point totals — not necessarily the tallest task when its field goal percentage has hovered in the 30s. Against the Scarlet Knights, the Wolverines started attacking the hoop with higher percentage shots, and the results showed — they went 9-for-14 from the paint in the final 20 minutes.
This efficiency propelled Michigan over Rutgers. A second-half resurrection got the Wolverines barely over the hump versus Maryland. But in the 72-52 throttling by Nebraska, they couldn’t adapt.
“We just don’t have that sense of urgency yet,” said senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “We lost that game in Nebraska, and you’d think we’d come out with a little more energy. We didn't. We had a pretty good lead at halftime, but it's gotta be better. … We can’t sit around and wait for things to get better in the second half.”
Not all should be forgotten in Michigan’s sluggish first half. The long-awaited arrivals of Jaaron Simmons being a capable ball handler, Jon Teske’s mid-range jumper and shutdown defense by Robinson were all welcome sights. As for the rest of what happened in the half? It was a sour taste that the Wolverines have had trouble getting out of their mouths.
“We’re a better scoring team than we were today,” Beilein said. “But we’ve gotta get through and get some fresh legs again so we can make some shots.”