CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Duncan Robinson ran ahead of the pack.
He had the ball in his hands, and with it, an opportunity to provide an answer to another punch that North Carolina (5-1) had thrown at the Michigan men’s basketball team (6-2).
The 13th-ranked Tar Heels’ two stars, guard Joel Berry and forward Luke Maye, had just hit a three and a two, respectively, to give North Carolina a 34-29 lead with about seven minutes left. Robinson had then hit a three to cut the deficit to two, and now he could draw his team even with a transition bucket.
Robinson fought off a defender with his off-hand, gathered the ball with his right hand and missed the layup off the right side of the rim.
The Tar Heels ran the other way, and forward Theo Pinson finished the sequence with an acrobatic reverse layup.
From there, the Wolverines never found an answer and were dominated in an 86-71 loss Wednesday night.
“Exactly what I thought this team’s weakness would be this year is when we needed somebody to settle down and make a play,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We weren’t ready to make a smart play at that time. It would turn into hero basketball, and it would end up (creating) offense for them. That’s exactly what happened.”
Added junior forward Moritz Wagner: “It was very disappointing, the way we put our heads down once we got down 10. Instead of making it a tough game, all of a sudden, it looked like a blowout.”
After amassing a 14-point lead heading into the halftime break, North Carolina flexed its muscles at the outset of the second half. It went on a 16-2 run that included and-one dunks, open layups and bruising post moves that blew the game wide open.
Beilein shuffled lineups often, but none of the rotations yielded strong results, and his team shot a meager 35.1 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
“I don’t know who those next guys are,” Beilein said. “We’re trying to figure it out, and that’s why we said, ‘To heck with the second half. Heck, you’re down 30. Let’s let the young guys play,’ ”
Though the game ended in a blowout, it didn’t seem like that would be the case early. At that point, everything was falling for both teams.
The Wolverines made their first eight shots. The eighth came on a fadeaway, bank-in three-pointer from redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews. Michigan took the Tar Heels’ repeated blows until there were eight minutes left in the first half.
Then, as North Carolina stomped its foot on the pedal, the Wolverines couldn’t keep up. Robinson missed his layup, and the rest of the team missed nearly everything else.
Michigan will return home Saturday for its Big Ten opener against Indiana. It will be an opportunity for the Wolverines to forget a game that could have been a launching pad for the rest of their season.
But it wasn’t, and like they were on Wednesday when everything was going wrong, Michigan is still looking for somebody who can step up and right the ship.
“I think the most important thing … is that we can’t sit in the locker room and have our heads down, because that’s weakness,” Wagner said. “That’s my big point, and I think our coaching staff’s going to take care of the rest.”