NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three turnovers.
Three pesky turnovers spelled the Michigan men’s basketball team’s downfall in the Wolverines’ NIT second-round loss to Vanderbilt.
Three turnovers ended Michigan’s subpar season.
And they all occurred in the final minute.
Up by five with just 58 seconds left in the final frame, the Wolverines should’ve been on their way to celebrating another win in the NIT — and taking one step closer to Las Vegas in search of a banner. Coming out of a timeout — called by the Commodores because of Michigan’s dominant performance down the stretch — the Wolverines had the game in hand.
But instead of holding on for dear life, the Wolverines let the game slip through their fingers.
“We turned the ball over three straight times,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Just on simple plays, where one was a pass and the guy missed out on the basketball, another (was) a cross-court pass, which is a tough catch for a player, and then the other one was another pass. Very uncharacteristic for us as a team.”
Junior center Hunter Dickinson summed it up neatly:
“We just gave them the game.”
After a made free throw from Vanderbilt with 58 seconds left forced Michigan to take the ball out of bounds, the Commodores set up in a full-court press. But instead of breaking it like they had all game long with easy, calm passes, the Wolverines got spooked.
Dickinson fired a pass from the middle of the floor directly toward the baseline and into junior forward Terrance Williams II’s hands. The pass broke the original full-court trap, but quickly devolved into chaos. As Commodore guards swarmed Williams on the baseline, he lost control of the ball, turning it right over into Vanderbilt guard Ezra Manjon’s hands.
To make matters worse, Williams turned right around and swatted at Manjon in hopes of getting the ball back. But instead of recovering from his mistake, he compounded it with a foul — sending Manjon to the free throw line. And as the second free throw sailed through the net, the first turnover of those fateful 58 seconds had cut Michigan’s lead to just three.
Despite Williams’ lapse, the Wolverines still had a chance to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win, clinging to that measly lead with possession of the ball.
Yet again, the full-court press proved costly for Michigan as Vanderbilt aggressively defended the inbound pass after the made free throw. Successfully getting the ball inbounds, and with a three point lead, all the Wolverines had to do was chew clock, searching for a good look.
Instead, it was freshman guard Dug McDaniel’s turn to collapse. Barely getting the ball across halfcourt before the 10-second call, McDaniel was clearly flustered. And instead of calming himself down and setting up a play, having a defender in his face sped him up even more.
Firing the ball across the court to Williams, the ball sailed clear over his head, completely uncatchable. Flying into the stands, the ball once again fell into the Commodores’ possession.
And instead of throwing chances away like Michigan decided to do, Vanderbilt utilized the sloppy mistakes, once again placing the ball in Majon’s hands. A driving layup from Majon cut the Wolverines’ lead to only one.
“We really gave them the game,” McDaniel said. “They had pressure throughout the whole game, but towards the end we just kind of let up and gave it to them.”
With 20 seconds left, Michigan still had a chance to sneak out a win. With a one point lead, ball possession and no shot clock keeping it from running it down to the buzzer, there was a recipe for success.
But once again, Michigan came up short. After Majon’s layup, the Commodores pressured the inbound pass, forcing Williams to burn a timeout rather than risk a five second call. And on the second inbound try, things didn’t fare any better.
In fact, they fared worse.
Williams eventually got the ball into Dickinson’s hands with a risky lob pass. Dickinson, though, became flustered as multiple guards swarmed him so he flipped the ball back towardWilliams. Unaware the pass was coming, Williams bobbled the ball off his arm and inadvertently flung it into the hands of a Vanderbilt guard.
The Commodores swung the ball around the floor and ended the possession with a missed layup — but it was called as a goaltend by Dickinson — giving the Commodores a one point lead with 12 seconds left.
On the next possession, McDaniel tried to put the team on his back and force a floater through the hoop. But as the ball bounced off the front rim and nobody could tip it back in, the final buzzer sounded.
“We hadn’t put any pressure on them the whole game,” Vanderbilt guard Tyrin Lawrence said. “ But we did (in the last minute) and it disrupted their offense and their flow that they had and we got some steals.”
And once again, the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor with a loss in hand — one they had inflicted on themselves.
But in this instance, for the final time.