When it’s boiled down to its bare bones, basketball has a simple premise: get the ball in the basket.
When a team can’t do that efficiently, the chances of coming away with a win drop significantly.
The Michigan men’s basketball team (13-10 overall, 7-6 Big Ten) proved the adage true on Saturday, falling to No. 16 Ohio State (15-6, 8-4), 68-57, in a showing fraught with offensive inefficiency.
“We got good looks,” fifth-year guard Eli Brooks said. “We missed a lot of layups, a lot of bunnies, a lot of stuff around the rim that we should have made. And it’s tough when tough when you don’t make the easy ones.”
From the start, the game looked like a rock fight. Both the Wolverines and Buckeyes — 19th and seventh in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency — struggled to make any gains offensively. Each bucket was hard-earned, and both teams’ offensive possessions were marred by turnovers and missed shots in a messy back-and-forth showdown. Eventually, the offenses gained some traction, giving Ohio State a 3-point lead at the half.
Coming out of the break, where Michigan would have liked to see a spark to ignite a comeback, it instead saw smoke. At the under-12 timeout, the Wolverines found themselves in an 8-point hole after shooting a measly 3-for-12 from the field to start the half. The Buckeyes, though not accelerating their offensive rate, kept up the pace from the first half, which proved to be enough in the face of an anemic Michigan attack.
The Wolverines were simply not the high-scoring team that decimated No. 3 Purdue Thursday night. Typically, Michigan’s defense sinks its ship, but the Wolverines were actually able to amount stops. They simply couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities they were creating, in spite of having the ability to do so.
“We know that we have shooters on the team,” Brooks said. “We prove it in practice, we prove it through our numbers throughout the year. I mean, (it’s) just confidence. I think we need to just shoot our shots and be more confident taking our shots.”
It was a far cry from the Michigan team that bared its formidable fangs against the Boilermakers. The Wolverine squad that dropped 82 points and made over half of its shots from the floor and from deep was nowhere to be found come Saturday.
Instead, a shell of itself stood in its place. Michigan posted an underwhelming 41.4% from the field and a tragic 23.5% from beyond the arc.
“We shot 4-for-17 from three, and there were some really good looks at the basket,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I would say maybe five of them were forced (misses). But other than that, it just didn’t go in for us, but we stay with it.”
With every missed shot, the Wolverines lost a chance to build momentum. And when they did make a much-needed bucket, the Buckeyes always found a way to silence the Crisler crowd and halt Michigan in its tracks.
Star Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell stood on the front lines of the Buckeyes’ spoils. Dropping 28 points on the Wolverines’ defense with odds-defying makes and clinical shots. Flanked by the rest of Ohio State’s contributors, it was too much for Michigan on a night where it wasn’t at its best.
“He’s gonna make tough shots,” Howard said. “… And that’s what it was tonight. Liddell made a lot of tough shots.”
The Wolverines’ typical saviors didn’t have it in them to resurrect their team from the deficit. Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson notched just 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting, freshman wing Caleb Houstan came away with a miserable five and besides Dickinson, only fifth-year guard Eli Brooks broke into double digits.
Down the stretch, as Michigan floundered, the Buckeyes pulled away. Without the ability to score efficiently, the comeback was never realized.
With the chance to grab their second Quadrant 1 win in a row and put themselves in a better position to make the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines came up short.
As Brooks saw it, the reason why was pretty simple:
“We just didn’t make shots.”