INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan men’s basketball team knew that entering its first-round matchup with Colorado State on Thursday, it needed to find a way to slow down the Rams elite offense.
Colorado State boasted the 12th most efficient offense in the country, shooting 48.5% from the field and 35% from deep. For much of the first half, it seemed the Rams flurry of shooters would be too much for Michigan to contain.
Colorado State made eight 3-pointers and took a seven-point lead into the locker room, leading by as many as 15 in the first half. The Wolverines looked dead in the water, and it appeared that the Rams were capable of stymieing any sort of comeback attempt.
But the second half told a different story.
Michigan clamped down defensively and a once-dominating Colorado State team never recovered.
“In the first half we were giving up a lot of easy looks,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said. “Any good team in Division I basketball can hit wide open looks like that. So, we really tried to lock in and buy into just guarding our person and our man and just playing Michigan defense out there.”
The defense flourished, forcing the Rams into taking contested looks from deep with far less success. Colorado State shot just 29% from the field and amassed only 27 points. It was an all-out effort to transform a halftime deficit into a double-digit win.
Throughout this season, the Wolverines have had several near-comebacks. Against Purdue in West Lafayette and Illinois at home most notably, they trimmed double digit deficits to get the game within a possession or two down the stretch — but the defense was never able to hold up its end of the bargain.
With the offense finding its stride in the final 20 minutes, this time the defense gave them a performance to match.
“Every game that you play throughout the year, and then all the games that you play leading up to this point, are teaching moments,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “It was great to know that what we’ve worked on in practice, the film opportunities (we were) able to apply them. It’s not going to always go perfect for 40 minutes. It just doesn’t work that way. But our guys stepped up when they had to.”
One player the Wolverines had been keen on since they found out about the matchup was Rams’ forward David Roddy — the Mountain West player of the year. But despite making two of his first three shots, Roddy was ultimately a non-factor. He finished with just 13 points and only one made three in 38 minutes of action.
Colorado State’s leader disappeared offensively in the second half, and the rest of its team had no response to back him up.
“Give a lot of credit to Michigan, they were the better team, clearly, in the second half,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “I don’t think we responded great when Michigan really turned up their pressure in the second half.”
The Wolverines needed to lock in for the final 20 minutes on both ends of the court. The offense was bound to start seeing some shots go in after not making a 3-pointer in the first half, but none of it would have mattered if the defense continued to fray.
Instead, with a renewed effort to shore up those holes — and not see its season end in an unceremonious blowout — the defense rose to the occasion. The result was a resounding victory, a spot in the Round of 32, a glimpse into what’s possible when Michigan is firing on all cylinders.