CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For the second time in two weeks, Michigan has been run off the court by an unranked opponent.
As a result of a still-struggling offense and lackadaisical defensive play, the Wolverines got thrashed on Wednesday night. The No. 24 Michigan basketball team (4-3 overall) fell to North Carolina (5-2), 72-51, in Chapel Hill, marking its second double-digit loss of the season.
“Every moment is a teachable moment,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said after the game. “We have a great group that’s based on (finding) solutions.”
After a 21-point defeat, Michigan needs to find those solutions, and do it fast.
The game started as rough as either could have imagined. At the under-16 media timeout, the score stood at just 4-2. The Tar Heels were shooting a measly 2-for-10, while the Wolverines had already turned the ball over a whopping five times. Neither team looked capable of taking control of the game.
As the half continued, both sides started to put up points, but the gap in scores remained tight. North Carolina’s production was spurred by guard Caleb Love, who finished the half 4-for-8 from the field with 10 of the Tar Heels’ 29 points.
On Michigan’s side of the ball, freshman big man Moussa Diabate took over the game. North Carolina’s defenders had trouble handling Diabate’s simultaneous size and shooting ability, and the five-star took advantage. In his first start for the Wolverines, Diabate scored 11 in the first half on 5-for-6 shooting, including his first made 3-pointer of the season.
Michigan came out of the half only down two points, 29-27. But the Tar Heels came out of the half ready to play.
North Carolina opened on a 17-6 run that was highlighted by and-one conversions by center Armando Bacot and guard Leaky Black. The foul committed on Bacot was sophomore center Hunter Dickinson’s fourth, forcing Howard to put him on the bench to prevent him from fouling out less than two minutes into the half.
This resulted in the Wolverines all but rolling over. Without Dickinson, Michigan was outscored 20-9. There was no big body in the paint on the defensive end of the floor to pick up rebounds, and the offense looked even more stagnant than usual with no true center to play through down low.
“We missed one of our best players,” Howard said. “He went out with four fouls. He got to four fouls really quick. And from there, North Carolina really took advantage.
“ … It’s tough to win any game when one of your best players only plays 17 minutes.”
Putting Dickinson back in didn’t stop the bleeding. The Tar Heels just kept on rolling. Love knocked down back-to-back contested threes in the face of Wolverines defenders, Bacot flashed down low with a dunk and guard RJ Davis had a fast-break layup and 3-pointer of his own.
“We’re giving them easy points,” fifth-year guard Eli Brooks said. “Mental mistakes, allowing them to get layups. … It’s hard to get stops when you’re giving them good looks.”
Down the stretch, Michigan looked beyond defeated, and North Carolina looked like it was hungry for more. The formerly fourth-ranked Wolverines raised more questions than they answered on Wednesday, with one prying at the front of many observers’ minds:
Can this team pull it together, and if so, when?