MINNEAPOLIS — Uncharacteristic.
That’s how Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein described the Wolverines’ performance from the free throw line. It was also how both redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson and senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. described it.
It was that kind of night for Michigan, as it shot just 50 percent (9-for-18) from the charity stripe.
It was an overall dismal performance for a usually good free throw shooting team — the Wolverines are ranked No. 4 in the NCAA, hitting 78.9 percent of their free throws — as Michigan was dealt a crushing 83-78 overtime loss Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena.
“It was very uncharacteristic of us to go 9-for-18 at the foul line,” Beilein said. “That was a big point in the game.”
Added Wilson: “It was uncharacteristic of us to miss those free throws down the stretch. I think we shot 50 percent, and we’re one of the leaders in the country as far as free-throw shooting, so that’s no excuse.”
And like Wilson said, it was at the most crucial points in the game that the Wolverines failed to convert from the line.
With 1:40 left in overtime, junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman went to the charity stripe to shoot two with Michigan down by one.
The junior guard put up the first shot. The ball hit the inside of the bucket before rimming out.
Abdur-Rakhman didn’t have much luck on his second shot either, as the ball rimmed out once again, wasting a big opportunity for Michigan to at least tie the game.
Earlier in the game, Walton missed three straight free throws — including the front end of a one-and-one — to cast away the possibility of putting Michigan ahead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.
After the game, Walton had no answers for why the Wolverines’ free-throw shooting was off Sunday afternoon.
“Just a very uncharacteristic tonight when I miss three big critical free throws,” Walton said. “Muhammad missed two big ones, and then (junior wing Duncan Robinson), out of all of us, missed one. It’s just one of those games where you can’t really describe what’s going on.
“We just couldn’t make them. A lot of them rimmed out halfway down the basket, and they just came out. I don’t think anybody changed their routine, and everybody shot it to make it, of course, but the ball just didn’t go in.”
While Michigan struggled from the free-throw line down the stretch, the performance was in stark contrast to Minnesota’s night from the charity stripe.
The Golden Gophers struggled early, making just 5-of-12 free throws in the first half. But Minnesota improved down the stretch, hitting 15 of its last 16 free throws to increase a lead that Michigan couldn’t come back from.
“It’s cliché, but they don’t seem to get too high or too low,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino of his team’s resiliency. “They’re a very mentally tough group.”
But while the ball didn’t roll Michigan’s way either from the charity stripe or at the end of the game, when Walton’s potential game-tying 3-pointer at the end of overtime rimmed out, there were some positives.
Mainly, the fact that the Wolverines were still in the game despite their struggles from the free-throw line against a top-25 RPI team.
“For me, it adds an little extra boost of confidence to know that we’re missing these free throws and we’re still in the game down the stretch,” Wilson said.
While Michigan’s loss at Minnesota won’t push them off the NCAA Tournament bubble — a conference loss on the road to a top-25 RPI team shouldn’t do that — there will come a time when the Wolverines will need to hit clutch free throws.
And the implications will be much larger than they were Sunday night in Minneapolis.