Mike Persak: Close and getting closer
A controversial review to give Purdue the ball, a somewhat controversial foul called on an in-bounds play and a half-court shot that missed just short.
Those were the lasting moments from the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 70-69 loss to the fifth-ranked Boilermakers. Any of which could have changed the outcome.
The review came when redshirt sophomore Charles Matthews seemingly had the ball poked out of his hands by Purdue guard Dakota Mathias. During the replay, Matthews told Beilein the ball didn’t go off his hands, but after an unusually long look at the monitors, the referees disagreed.
“I wish we could have got Charles to the rim,” Beilein said. “It looked like he was going to go lay it in, and all of the sudden, you know, with 5.6, or whatever it is on the clock, that’s enough time. I really was convinced that we had a play set up that we were going to win the game. All of the sudden, they’re winning the game.”
Considering how the game went, with Michigan crawling back from a 14-point first-half deficit and having the ball in its hands with the game on the line, it’s easy to understand disappointment. This would have been a huge win against a Boilermaker team that has looked as good as any in recent weeks.
Yet, taking a step back, it’s hard to ignore how far the Wolverines have come.
This isn’t the same team that lost to LSU, looked hapless against North Carolina and blew a huge lead in Columbus. On Tuesday, against a team that looked like it was a terrible matchup for Michigan, the Wolverines hung around.
Freshman forward Isaiah Livers and freshman guard Jordan Poole kept the Wolverines alive at times. They were hardly factors early in the season.
Freshman guard Zavier Simpson hit two huge 3-pointers to give Michigan its first lead of the game with 4:38 left. He was benched after the loss to the Tigers.
Most importantly, perhaps, the Wolverines made halftime adjustments and came back against an elite team when they were punched in the face to start the game. Against the Tar Heels, that seemed an impossibility.
It was enough to give senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman encouragement.
“I was pretty encouraged, but you never like to see your team lose,” said senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “I mean, a lot of guys showed a lot of great stuff. We’ve just got to continue to grow. It’s a marathon.”
Michigan still has plenty of progress to make. The Wolverines still had trouble stopping Boilermaker center Isaac Haas, and if it weren’t for a strong, second-half shooting performance, Michigan might not have been in the game.
But the adjustments were made, and if Matthews’ call doesn’t get overturned, or if Wagner doesn’t foul Haas, or if Matthews’ half-court heave goes four inches further the Wolverines come out on top.
Steady improvement over the season has nearly become a patented trademark of Beilein’s teams. This one may be another example.
Tuesday’s game was just the latest testament to how far Michigan has come this season. It’s why Beilein seemed so disappointed after the game. Saturday’s matchup with No. 4 Michigan State – possibly the best team in the country – will be the next opportunity to show it.
The Wolverines might not get the lucky bounces in that game, either. They may lose again. Yet it seems they are approaching where they want to be.
Persak can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeDPersak