It’s hard to win a basketball game shooting 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. It’s even harder when you can’t string together a possession down the stretch without turning the ball over.
The No. 4 Michigan men’s basketball team (2-1 overall) proved just that as it lost a nail-biter to Seton Hall (3-0) in the Crisler Center, 67-65.
“Fundamentally, we gotta do a better job and take care of (the) basketball,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said in a somber postgame press conference. “So it’s a learning process for all of us as a whole.”
A frantic pace defined the game’s early minutes, players from both teams running up and down the court on both makes and misses. The Pirates had a hard time breaking down the Wolverines’ defense, but it didn’t matter, they still made three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes, and their mid-range jumpers were falling.
While the length of Seton Hall’s starting lineup — with their shortest player being 6-foot-6 — didn’t make a big difference on the offensive end, nearly every Pirate used their physicality to their advantage on defense. Seton Hall tallied five blocks through the first 13 minutes and Michigan’s drives to the basket were constantly disrupted. This was a particularly significant problem for the Wolverines considering they didn’t hit a 3-pointer for nearly the first 30 minutes of game time.
“It was different going against all that length,” graduate guard DeVante’ Jones said. “But, I knew that was happening. … We watched a lot of film, knowing that was going to be a specialty of theirs. So, I blame myself.”
This failure to adjust to the Pirates’ strengths was a common theme throughout the game for Michigan. A general lack of execution compounded with the defense of Seton Hall kept the Wolverines from finding anything resembling a rhythm. The game stayed close throughout the first half, with Michigan only able to hold a 31-28 lead at the half.
The first possessions of the second half went to the paint. A post-up from sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and a pair of drives from Jones and freshman forward Caleb Houstan established an early tone, setting up the Wolverines with a 10 point lead just three minutes into the half, giving the appearance of a team on its way to putting the game away.
But the Pirates still managed to stick around. They finally started getting to the rim after a first half full of contested jumpers, and there they found success.
The once-11-point lead for the Wolverines evaporated on a Bryce Aiken three with a bit over four minutes to play. An immediate foul from Dickinson gave the Pirates the ball back, but they couldn’t cash in.
“We just messed up some of our coverages on defense and they got a lot of open threes,” Jones said. “I know that’s something coach Howard is going to get on us about tomorrow, because we’re a defensive team first and we let them get too many open threes, and that’s just not us.”
Jones made his impact known in the final four minutes, for better and for worse. His corner three gave Michigan another lead, but a turnover proved costly in tying the game at 60. Then, a blocking foul brought the Pirates back to the line. Aiken missed the first, but made the second to give them their first lead of the half.
The Wolverines’ steadying presence — Dickinson — gave them back the lead with a pair of free throws. But, with the entire crowd standing, it was Jones who was once again called for a foul, sending Aiken to the line and giving up the lead one last time.
“We made a couple of tic-tac fouls,” Jones said. “I put that on myself. I just gotta get better on defense.”
A final chance for Michigan came when sophomore forward Terrance William II hoisted up a contested jumper but was fouled. The outcome of the game depended on a pair of free throws. The first fell short and, with that, so did Michigan’s effort.