Riding the high of a red-hot start, the Michigan men’s basketball team returned to Crisler Center looking to extend its win streak against Long Beach State.
But the Beach had other plans and didn’t let anything thwart it along the way.
Long Beach State ran circles around a Wolverines defense that allowed the most points since 2016 as Michigan (3-1 overall) fell to the Beach (2-2), 94-86.
“We weren’t on a string,” graduate forward Olivier Nkamhoua said postgame. “We didn’t come out fully prepared.”
At first, however, the Wolverines seemed poised to be the ones running the score up. Michigan got off to a rapid start, taking a 17-5 lead into the first media timeout on the back of smart transition play and accurate shooting.
Then Long Beach State made an adjustment, switching into a high zone that gave the Wolverines fits and stagnated their offense. Gone was the crisp ball movement Michigan found itself with early as it struggled to penetrate the zone and generate clean looks for its shooters.
That switch to a zone was paired with the Beach’s offense waking up, flipping the script of the game on its head. While still leading for the entire first half, the Wolverines struggled to stay afloat.
Long Beach State guard Marcus Tsohonis led the charge for the Beach, notching 19 points on 60% shooting by halftime. He ended his night with a game-high 35 points and drew 11 fouls, just seven fewer than the entire Michigan team.
“When anybody walks into your building and brings up those kinds of numbers, we didn’t guard him,” Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “Not (graduate guard) Nimari (Burnett) didn’t guard him or (senior forward Terrance Williams II) didn’t guard him, or scouting report — we didn’t know. I mean, he came in averaging 18 shots a game. He was their leading scorer. He took 19 shots.”
Offensively, sophomore guard Dug McDaniel and graduate forward Tray Jackson just managed to keep Michigan ahead, combining for 29 first-half points as the Wolverines took a narrow 50-48 lead into halftime. But both players struggled on the other end, as did the rest of their teammates.
Coming out of the locker room, it was clear that Long Beach State was a force to be reckoned with.
The Beach started the half a scalding 10-for-14 from the field as Michigan failed to generate stops, including ceding three open layups in the first eight minutes. Just a couple minutes into the half, Long Beach State took the lead, and a back-and-forth battle ensued.
The Wolverines attempted a variety of defensive adjustments to stop the Beach, but nothing seemed to work. No matter who was on Tsohonis or forwards Lassina and Aboubacar Traore, it took the majority of the half for Michigan to find any semblance of a defensive game plan.
Every time the Wolverines seemed to find a rhythm, they shot themselves in the foot with ill-timed turnovers and missed open shots. Each time Michigan had the opportunity to retake the lead within its grasp, it let that chance slip away.
“A big problem we had was, every time we would score we wouldn’t react equally fast to get back,” Nkamhoua said. “To just get stops to slow them down. We were letting them get too many transition breakouts and that starts with communication.”
The Wolverines finally found the lead, and seemingly momentum, with 5:12 left to play after a pair of emphatic slams from Nkamhoua. But the Beach refused to relent, retaking the lead each time Michigan went back up.
Despite the Wolverines clawing their way back into the game, they lost their late lead the same way they lost their early one: sloppy play and poor defense.
With 23 seconds to go and Michigan playing the foul game, it let one more sloppy defensive play seal its fate.
Down just two points, the Wolverines watched a missed free throw clank off the rim, the rebound representing a chance to storm down the other way and tie the game or retake the lead. But Michigan kept watching as Aboubacar dropped home an uncontested putback with nobody boxing him out.
That bucket all but solidified the Wolverines’ night. Because despite all their missteps, they still had a chance to fend off the upset. Instead, they let those same game-long errors continue to plague them as they netted their first loss of the season, 94-86.