EAST LANSING — Sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin toed the 3-point line, waiting for his shot. Midway through the second half, down by 10 points, the Michigan men’s basketball team needed to gain momentum, and fast.
As a post-entry pass to junior center Hunter Dickinson found its way into the lane, Bufkin’s defender dropped down into help, and that left Bufkin wide open on the baseline. Dickinson kicked the ball out. Bufkin let it fly.
But instead of cutting the lead, as the ball glanced off the rim and into a Michigan State defender’s waiting hands, it allowed the Spartans an easy transition bucket on the other end.
A textbook play with poor results — the epitome of the Wolverines’ 3-point shooting capabilities against Michigan State. In a game that could’ve bolstered Michigan’s transformation after a crushing loss to Central Michigan, Saturday night’s 59-53 loss was instead another reminder of the Wolverines’ inadequacies from behind the 3-point line.
“(Three-point shooting was) tough because we had so many good looks,” Dickinson said. “So I think it was just a matter of the ball not going in. It’s not a great answer, but we got a lot of great looks, a lot of open shots. And sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall your way.”
The ball certainly didn’t fall Michigan’s way, with its shooters going just 3-for-20 from behind the arc. Shooting a measly 15% from three — the worst percentage so far this season — many of the Wolverines premiere 3-point shooters were rendered silent on Saturday night.
Graduate guard Joey Baker — picked up via the transfer portal specifically for his 3-point shooting capabilities — went 0-for-3 from the 3-point line amid a zero point night. Freshman wing Jett Howard fared a little better at 2-for-6, but his success came too late in the second half after the Wolverines had dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.
“I felt like everybody shot it with confidence, and was ready to shoot,” Bufkin said. “So I’m not mad at the shots. I just wish they had went in.”
Surprisingly, Dickinson had the only other made 3-pointer of the night, going 1-for-3 from deep. Dickinson is known to attempt, and make, a handful of 3-pointers. Instead, what makes his success surprising is the lack of prosperity from the guards on the floor. It says quite a bit about Michigan’s ranged capabilities that its 7-foot-1 center was its second-leading 3-point shooter any given night.
And it wasn’t as if the Spartans had the deep shots on lock down. Facilitating the offense through Dickinson created ample opportunities and open looks for 3-pointers. Two airballs from freshman guard Dug McDaniel, on relatively open looks no less, summarized Michigan’s inability to take advantage of the open shots from deep. Instead of knocking them down, the Wolverines floundered.
Michigan continued to bring the game within reach down the stretch, slowly whittling away at Michigan State’s once 14-point lead. The Wolverines brought it back within four points with less than four minutes in the second half.
But four points felt insurmountable against the Wolverines’ poor shooting capabilities. As deep balls continued to bounce around the rim and off the glass, Michigan allowed the Spartans to maintain their lead by capitalizing on the missed attempts and turning them into their own buckets.
The Wolverines continued to shoot themselves in the foot time and time again with misses from behind the arc, unable to overcome the small lead the Spartans maintained down the stretch.
“I feel like that just happens in the game of basketball,” Bufkin said. You’re not always going to shoot the ball your greatest. The past two games we’ve shot it pretty well. So the basketball gods are eventually going to humble you at some point, and I feel like they humbled us tonight.”
It might be the “basketball gods,” or poor offensive communication, or the raucous crowd of the Breslin Center. But either way, Bufkin is correct.
The Wolverines have been humbled from their high caliber performances against other Big Ten teams. Now it’s back to the drawing board — and behind the 3-point line in practice — to remedy their worst 3-point outing this season.