With just under 13 minutes left in the game, a loose ball was up for grabs. As it rolled around in Michigan’s offensive end, the game hanging in the balance, it was Minnesota who was able to dive on it.
All game the Wolverines remained competitive, but the Golden Gophers just wanted it more.
The Michigan men’s basketball team (6-4 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) couldn’t flip the switch against Minnesota (8-1, 1-1) on Saturday, falling in a stunning 75-65 upset.
“I just don’t think we were the most physical team out there,” fifth-year guard Eli Brooks said. “We let them move freely. And that’s one of our key points on defense, making them feel us. And we just didn’t do that tonight.”
Michigan started strong, hitting six of its first 10 shots and appeared to be on its way to another easy victory. The Wolverines jumped to a 15-12 lead and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson paced the offense — knocking down three mid-range jumpers in the early minutes.
But then, Dickinson went to the bench and the offensive rhythm left with him. Both teams struggled to string together baskets and neither were able to establish control. After starting hot, Michigan couldn’t buy a bucket and made just three of its next 10 shots. Heading into the under-four timeout, the Wolverines narrowly led 26-25.
Coming out of the timeout, Gophers’ players broke the huddle early and took their spots on the court. But Michigan waited until the last possible second to leave the bench — and the extra strategizing paid off. The Wolverines found immediate success in the paint, making four of their next five shots in that area, and capped it off with a hook shot from freshman forward Moussa Diabate to just beat the halftime buzzer. They headed into the locker room with a bit more breathing room, up 36-32.
Coming out of the locker room, though, it was Minnesota who looked to take control, going on a 12-4 run to open the half and taking a 44-40 lead into the under-16 timeout. It wasn’t until the 14:18 mark when Gophers’ guard E.J. Stephens traveled — Minnesota’s first turnover of the game.
“I just really felt like we were not ready,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “We were not ready to start the half, mentally or physically.”
As Michigan clung to life in the game, fifth-year guard DeVante’ Jones appeared to be its chance at salvation. Jones put up eight of the team’s first nine points in the half and kept them within striking distance, down 51-45 with 12 minutes left.
Yet, instead of being able to close the gap, the team fell apart defensively and the deficit only grew. They had no answer for Minnesota forward Jamison Battle, as he erupted for 21 points in the second half alone.
“Battle made some tough shots,” Howard said. “In the second half it was just mainly pull up jumpers from mid range where we didn’t make anything challenging for him at all. He was just too comfortable in the second half.”
Trailing 66-55 with 5:22 remaining, the Wolverines tried one last time to claw their way back into it. They forced a traveling violation coming out of a timeout and Jones hit a pair of free throws on the other end to trim the lead to single digits. With the crowd roaring, Dickinson gave them even more to cheer about — hitting an and-one layup with four minutes left.
Now down just six, victory suddenly seemed within reach once again. Michigan ramped up the defensive intensity — but struggled to find the payoff on offense. Brooks missed a three and Dickinson came up short on a pair of shots in-close and the game never got within one possession.
With 72 seconds left, the Wolverines still trailed by six. Freshman guard Frankie Collins gave the team one last push, drawing a pair of foul shots. But he made just one of two, and the miss all but sealed Michigan’s fate.
The Wolverines kept battling to the very end, but ultimately the shooting woes and defensive breakdowns cost Michigan what had appeared to be an easy win on paper.
After appearing to be building some positive momentum, the Wolverines suffered yet another setback and are back to the drawing board again in their search to find consistency.
“Right now we’re just trying to get better each and every day,” Dickinson said. “We know there’s no championships being had in December.”