Any decent team should be able to win at home.
There’s the comfort of shooting on rims that send balls on predictable caroms.
There’s the home crowd that creates momentum and provides motivation when necessary.
And there’s the possibility that the refs will be intimidated by the environment and shade calls the home team’s way.
That’s why the test of a good team has always been whether it can win on the road.
The Michigan basketball team gets a second chance to prove it is such a team tonight when it travels to Oxford to take on the Miami (OH) RedHawks at 8 p.m.
Its first opportunity didn’t go as planned.
Facing North Carolina State in Raleigh in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week, the Wolverines fell 74-67 to a Wolfpack team missing its best player. They trailed by 21 points in the middle of the second half.
But it wasn’t all bad.
Michigan opened the game hot, leading 16-4 before North Carolina State began to chip away. And staring at a large deficit with just 11 minutes remaining in the game, the Wolverines mounted a furious comeback and had a chance to cut the lead to two late in the game.
“We always come out ready to play, but then we have a little dip in our play,” junior Ron Coleman said. “We just have to learn how to sustain it.”
Some of that inconsistency can be blamed on the hostile environment. It was Michigan’s first road game this season, and the raucous Wolfpack crowd was tough for some of the Wolverines to handle. Freshman Ekpe Udoh has said that he was very nervous to play at the RBC Center.
As North Carolina State made its run, the crowd became louder and more involved. The pressure seemed to affect Michigan, and its shots began to rim out.
“It shouldn’t matter where we’re at; we should always play the same,” sophomore Jerret Smith said. “I think last time we got a little shook up when things started turning around. But I think we’ll be all right. I think shots weren’t falling last road game.”
But the Wolverines’ struggles on the road aren’t just limited to their first road game of this year.
Last season, six of Michigan’s eight conference losses came on the road, including one at Purdue, which finished last in the Big Ten. Michigan’s only two road victories came against Minnesota and Penn State, which finished eighth and 10th in the conference, respectively.
According to some Michigan players, the struggles away from Crisler Arena can be attributed to a lack of focus.
“We just have to be ready to play 40 minutes, that’s basically it,” Smith said. “We have to always be ready to play strong all 40 minutes, instead of having letdowns and time gaps in the game.”
But that wasn’t the problem in the North Carolina State game.
“If you want to be a truly good team, you have to get some wins on the road,” senior captain Lester Abram said. “You can’t just win every game at home and expect to go places. Until that point, we weren’t really playing that well as a basketball team. We were getting wins, but after we won we really didn’t feel good about the way we were winning.”
After Michigan’s dominating win over Wofford on Saturday, the team started to feel better about its play. Several players noted that it was the first time the team had played a complete 40 minutes, and Michigan coach Tommy Amaker was visibly pleased with the Wolverines’ effort.
And given that the North Carolina State loss came early in the season, it shouldn’t be too detrimental to the team’s stated goal of making the NCAA Tournament.
“If someone told you that you had nine games, and that you had won eight, that’s a pretty good record to have,” Amaker said.