Over the course of a college basketball season, the schedule typically doesn’t let up between games for teams to recover from a poor outing or a disappointing finish.
But after a dismal performance last Wednesday night at South Carolina resulted in its first loss of the season, the Michigan men’s basketball team had two days off before returning to action at Crisler Center against Mount St. Mary’s. While the Gamecocks were a relatively even match for the Wolverines — both had 4-0 records at the time — the Mountaineers had won only once in six tries and looked likely to be no match for Michigan.
And that proved to be the case, as the Wolverines bounced back from a humiliating 15-point loss behind an offensive resurgence that saw them shoot 43.6 percent from the floor and 11-for-27 from beyond the arc to earn a 17-point win.
The stage has been set for a parallel situation to occur Saturday when Michigan (5-2) takes on Kennesaw State (3-5).
Wednesday night, the Wolverines suffered a stunning 73-70 defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Though they spent much of the game in cruise control, leading for all but 2:18 of regulation, the Hokies gradually inched their way back as Michigan’s shooters went cold.
The Wolverines had their largest lead of the contest — a 15-point margin — halfway through the first half, but Virginia Tech whittled it down to nine at the break. Within the first five minutes of the second half, the Hokies had tightened it all the way to one. But after Michigan pushed it back out to 10 with seven minutes left to play, Virginia Tech went on a 16-5 run in the next five minutes to take a one-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
With 5-1 records, the Wolverines and Hokies were also fairly even in their matchup, but after two days off again, that won’t be the case when Michigan faces the Owls. Kennesaw State will travel to Ann Arbor coming off a road trip in Florida, where it secured a two-point victory over Florida A&M for its first road win of the season after falling on the wrong end of another two-point encounter against South Florida.
The Owls may be riding some momentum, but it likely won’t be enough for them to overtake the Wolverines. That is, if Michigan can repeat the type of performance it put on to right the ship against an inferior opponent in Mount St. Mary’s last Saturday.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Wolverines are in good shape to replicate their dominance. They posted 70 points on Virginia Tech, a major improvement from their 46-point output against South Carolina. But after giving up a season-high 73 points, the defense is in a different state of affairs.
“The biggest thing to take away from this is we gotta be able to finish on the defensive end, not really on offense,” said senior forward Zak Irvin after the loss to the Hokies. “Defense wins games, and we didn’t do that and we lost.”
Against a Kennesaw State team that is averaging 75.8 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor and 37 percent from beyond the arc, the defense will now need to be the unit that steps up to help the Wolverines bounce back from another tough loss.
Michigan closed out the victory over Mount St. Mary’s on an 11-2 run, while the opposite occurred in the loss to Virginia Tech.
“Most importantly, we gotta be able to finish. We didn’t finish tonight,” Irvin said. “This one’s gonna haunt us. Obviously, we gotta learn from it tomorrow, we gotta put it in the back of our head, but this is definitely one that’s gonna take a little bit to sink in.”
The Wolverines have been fortunate to be able to rebound against easier opposition after their two losses this season, but when Big Ten play rolls around, they won’t be so lucky.