BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Just one day after appearing to find a groove in its dominant win over Pitt, the No. 20 Michigan men’s basketball team had an opportunity to build upon that momentum further.
But with a slow start that illustrated the Wolverines’ glaring early-season weaknesses on both sides of the ball, it became clear: Michigan is nowhere close to finding its stride.
On Thursday in the Legends Classic championship game, the Wolverines (3-1 overall) failed to find any momentum and spiraled against Arizona State (4-1) en route to an 87-62 blowout loss.
“Getting beat like that is pretty embarrassing,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “You don’t want to have that wake up call, but it happened and so for us, I feel like it’ll level us and kind of bring us back down to earth. Obviously we can’t just roll up out there and play and expect to win.”
Michigan’s struggles stemmed largely from the massive hole it dug itself into early in the first half. The Sun Devils came out firing, penetrating the Wolverines’ defense early and finding open shots.
At the under 16 timeout, facing a seven-point deficit, Michigan hoped to find a spark. Instead, its defensive struggles swelled. Arizona State opened the floodgates, extending its lead from a manageable single-digit advantage to a monstrous margin.
On many plays, the Wolverines struggled to keep up with the Sun Devils’ ball movement. On others, they failed to contest their opponents’ shots at all. With that, Arizona State ballooned the disparity to 18 at the end of the half as the Sun Devils’ maintained their dominant shooting performance, sinking shot after shot in their 60.4% shooting performance.
“I think the first thing that we got to point to is contesting,” Dickinson said. “I think they got a lot of open looks that we didn’t really have good contests. … I think we just were a little lost out there on the defensive end.”
To make matters worse, Michigan’s offense was completely lethargic, unable to string together any sort of run in hopes of turning things around.
On Wednesday night, the Wolverines boasted their strongest offensive performance of the season, consistently creating open looks and shooting the three effectively. Finding consistency in that facet is something that Michigan needs to attain in order to be successful. That was nowhere to be seen from the Wolverines’ offense on Thursday.
The difference between the two teams’ shooting was glaring. In comparison to the Sun Devils’ 18-for-32 mark, Michigan had only connected on nine of its 30 attempts in the first half.
In the final seconds of the half, as Dickinson found himself doubled under the basket, he dished the ball to graduate guard Jaelin Llewellyn at the top of the key. Llewellyn drove through two defenders and put up a layup. As the buzzer sounded, the ball connected with nylon. With a positive note to end the half, despite being down 18 points, Michigan entered halftime with an opportunity to make a push in the final 20 minutes of play.
But it quickly became clear that it wouldn’t do that.
Although the Wolverines’ offense showed slight improvements as a whole, its 3-point shooting was just as lifeless as it was in the first half. And Arizona State’s was just as potent.
Early in the half, Michigan flashed a few strong possessions, attempting to spark a rally: a put-back shot by Dickinson after a 3-point miss, an and-1 layup by sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin for a three-point play, a smooth jump shot by freshman guard Dug McDaniel. But after each of those moments, the Sun Devils had an equally impressive answer, keeping Michigan at an arm’s length the rest of the half.
“We don’t make any excuses,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “And with that, we didn’t do a good job. … We’re gonna learn from this moment right here. Both teams played yesterday, both teams had an opportunity to win a championship.”
After unsuccessful efforts to turn things around, the Wolverines couldn’t shake their lifeless demeanor on both ends of the floor. No comeback attempt materialized, as Michigan dropped its first game of the season.