Everyone wanted to talk about the comeback.
Admittedly, the Wolverines’ response was impressive. It would have been easy to fold in the midst of a four-game losing streak and down by nine at home.
Instead, Michigan gutted out an 82-80 win behind career performances from seniors Brent Petway and Dion Harris. With just two points and one rebound before the half, Petway tallied 16 points and six rebounds in the second half. Harris was solid throughout, managing 27 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
The whole team showed up for the second half. Along with Petway and Harris, junior Ron Coleman hit two big 3-pointers, and sophomore Jerret Smith knocked down four clutch free throws and handed out four assists.
But why did it take so long?
The Wolverines absolutely had to have this win. They were coming off a four-game losing streak, including a home loss to Iowa that severely dampened their postseason prospects. They don’t have an easy game for the rest of the season. And they were returning home to Crisler Arena, where the team has repeatedly stated that it feels much more comfortable and confident.
The significance of the game didn’t elude them.
“It was a must-win, we had to capitalize on this (game). We already dropped one to Iowa here,” senior Courtney Sims said.
“We just felt like we really needed to get a win,” Harris said. “We thought we played that game terribly (against Iowa), so we wanted to come in with a new focus for this home game and get a win.”
Harris showed it, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first period.
But the rest of the squad was almost invisible.
Sims didn’t record a single point or rebound until he hit a free throw with 5:44 left in the first half.
Petway notched just the aforementioned two and one.
Coleman had two points.
And Michigan allowed Minnesota, the worst-shooting team in the conference, to hit 50 percent of its shots. The Wolverines turned the ball over eight times in the period, and showed such a general lack of passion and intensity that they were booed off the floor at halftime.
How is that possible?
Considering everything the players said after the game, how could it have taken them an entire half to play the way they finished the game? Why didn’t they come out strong, given that they knew it was a must-win game? Yes, Michigan has struggled with starting games this season, but that usually happens on the road.
After the game, Petway and Sims conveyed that at halftime, teammates were getting on each other, and the seniors were speaking out about the urgency they needed in the second half, about how they couldn’t lose this game.
Why did the Wolverines need to be down by nine to one of the three worst teams in the Big Ten at home for the seniors to step up? Shouldn’t this have happened after the Iowa game?
This was a Minnesota team that had a losing nonconference record and whose coach had his contract bought out just seven games into the season. It was a Minnesota team who is either last or second-to-last in the Big Ten in 14 of 19 statistical categories. It was a Minnesota team with the worst winning percentage in the conference
And it was a Minnesota team that had absolutely no business leading the Wolverines by nine points at halftime.
The comeback was impressive. But more telling was the way Michigan (other than Harris) opened the game, a game anyone and everyone knew they needed to win: without passion, without energy and without an appropriate sense of urgency.
– Bromwich can be reached at email@example.com