PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — In a matter of 48 hours, the Michigan men’s basketball team went from a team that couldn’t make a shot to one that barely missed.
After a miserable opening night at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Wednesday against Connecticut in which it shot just 32 percent from the field, the Wolverines (4-2) salvaged the three-day trip with a win on Friday over Texas (2-3) in the fifth-place game, edging the Longhorns, 78-72.
Michigan and Texas swapped 3s back and forth during the first half. In a 15-second period midway through the frame, the teams combined for three treys. With 13:09 left in the half, Michigan redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson hit a triple from the corner. Six second later, Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. knocked down a shot from behind the arc. Just nine seconds after that, the Wolverines came back down the court, and senior guard Caris LeVert dished to Robinson who hit from deep, again.
Fifteen seconds, three 3s, nine points. It was that kind of night at Imperial Arena.
Michigan went 11-for-17 from 3-point range in the first frame to combat a Texas team that’s big down low. Junior guard Zak Irvin nailed one from deep with less than a minute left, and LeVert hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to send Michigan into halftime with a 44-32 advantage.
“We’re going to take what people give us,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “And when you’re that big at the ‘4’ and the ‘5’ position, we’ll stretch people. … If they take away the shot then we’re going to drive it, but if we can get some open looks especially by (Robinson, LeVert and junior guard Derrick Walton Jr.), we’ll take them.”
Texas hung with the Wolverines in the first half with five 3-pointers of its own, but free-throw shooting plagued the Longhorns. They went 3-for-10 from the line in the first frame.
In the second half, Texas came out with a bit of extra intensity and pushed the ball down to its big men in the paint to kick the frame off with a 6-0 run. The Longhorns scored 18 of their 40 second-half points in the paint.
In the first 20 minutes, sophomore forward Ricky Doyle and freshman forward Moritz Wagner limited Texas’ 6-foot-9, 290-pound center Cameron Ridley to just four points. Just more than a minute into the second frame, Ridley doubled his point total with an early layup and a big dunk.
After Doyle and Wagner picked up their third and fourth fouls, respectively, Beilein was forced to go to junior forward Mark Donnal. In nine second-half minutes, Donnal held his own, chipping in four points, but Texas used five 3-pointers in the frame and a tight full-court press defense to cut the lead to one with four minutes left.
When the Longhorns first implemented the press, they created a turnover-turned layup and then forced a Michigan 10-second violation.
“At first I think Derrick and myself were in the wrong spots, so they kept deflecting the basketball,” LeVert said. “Once we got our spacing together, I think we did a great job of attacking.”
After a Wolverine foul, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor knocked down a free throw to complete an and-1 play, and the Longhorns looked poised to complete a comeback. But LeVert — who finished with a game-high 19 points — forced his way to the rim on the Wolverines’ next two possessions to push Michigan’s lead back out to five. Then, Walton drew a charge on the next Texas possession to swing the momentum back to Michigan for good.
“They kept making shots,” Walton said. “They kept answering. We’d punch one minute, they’d make a punch themselves. So to make that play at that moment in time, it was big for us, it shifted things for us in our favor.”
Texas fouled the Wolverines late to send them to the line, but even three missed Michigan free throws with less than 40 seconds left couldn’t help the Longhorns get back into the game.
The win helps salvage an early-season tournament for Michigan that got off to a bad start after a blowout at the hands of Connecticut, and gives the team a renewed sense of identity heading back to Ann Arbor.
“We respond well to adversity,” Walton said of what the he learned about his team during the tournament. “The last couple of games we had some things that we thought could’ve gone our way that just didn’t, and nobody in that locker room pointed fingers. (We) just bonded together, made a decision that whatever happens to this team, we’re going to be there for each other. Tonight was a great example.”