Down by two, with 10 seconds remaining and in desperate need of a bucket, the Michigan men’s basketball team put the ball in the hands of graduate guard Eli Brooks.
Brooks dribbled towards the paint, looking for Hunter Dickinson, but the usually-reliable sophomore center wasn’t open. The play broke down as a result, and Brooks was forced to kick it out to sophomore forward Terrance Williams II for a contested jumper. Williams was lucky to draw a foul, but missed the first free throw to seal the loss.
“(I was) looking for Hunter but he wasn’t there,” Brooks said. “They packed the paint.”
That final play was a microcosm of the last 15 minutes in the Wolverines’ 67-65 loss to Seton Hall on Tuesday. Dickinson attempted his final field goal of the game with 13:53 remaining, when Michigan held an 11-point lead — its largest of the game. He only attempted two free throws from that point on, and his teammates struggled to pick up the slack.
“They were fronting the post,” Brooks said. “We gotta flash someone to the middle so we can get the high-low. I think that’s just something that’s going to take time.”
Added graduate guard DeVante’ Jones: “I just felt like we didn’t do a good enough job getting (Dickinson) the ball in the spots that he’s more comfortable in.”
The easiest way for Michigan to counteract the Pirates’ neutralization of Dickinson would have been with 3-point shooting, but the Wolverines struggled from behind the arc all night. Michigan didn’t make a single 3-pointer in the first half, and finished 3-of-15 from long range.
Freshman wing Caleb Houstan, who entered the night shooting over 40% from beyond the arc — albeit in a small sample size — missed all four of his attempts. These included a wide-open look from the corner at the first half buzzer that would have sent the Wolverines into halftime with the momentum on their side.
“My dad always told me that the percentages are gonna weigh out,” Brooks said. “If you’re a 40% guy, they’re gonna start falling at some point. I mean, they were all good shots. We tell him to shoot every single time, so it’s gonna fall eventually.”
But Michigan’s depth struggles extended beyond 3-point shooting. Freshman forward Moussa Diabate picked up multiple offensive fouls and struggled at times on defense, occasionally overcommitting and giving up a resulting open look.
Senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. struggled even more. Johns often passed up open 3-pointers that led to poor possessions, including one in which he passed up an open 3-pointer, stepped inside the arc, and airballed a deep two. On another possession, Johns seemingly lost track of the shot clock, dribbling for too long and causing a shot clock violation.
“We have Brandon Johns, we told him ‘Look, if you’re open, you gotta shoot the ball,’ ” Jones said.
Outside of Dickinson and Brooks, the Wolverines shot just 30.5% from the floor. When Dickinson is dominant and teams can’t defend him, they can get away with that. But against Seton Hall, a team with the height to make it tough to get Dickinson the ball in a good position, Michigan’s other players need to step up.
If they can’t, the Wolverines have more games like Tuesday in their future.