BLOOMINGTON — At this point in the season, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker might do well to hire his team an exorcist.
After a 62-53 loss at the hands of Indiana last night, the Wolverines continued to be haunted by Assembly Hall. Michigan has lost eight straight games in Indiana’s hallowed arena, and its series performance isn’t all that impressive either.
This was the Hoosiers’ seventh straight win over the Wolverines and their 10th victory in the last 11 meetings. Even Amaker had to give in when asked if the Hoosiers had Michigan’s number.
“They’ve won seven in a row,” Amaker said. “I guess they do.”
But this demon is just one of the problems Michigan might face now. This loss — Michigan’s first on the road in conference play — has the potential to spook the Wolverines back to some of the old habits that have haunted them in the past.
Last night’s game was practically a rehash of all the things that have exasperated Michigan fans in seasons past.
For example, the turnover monster reared its ugly head in full force again.
Ever since Michigan squeaked out a 65-63 win at Iowa on Jan. 5 — a game in which it committed 25 turnovers — the Wolverines have slowly cut down that number game by game. At Penn State last Saturday, the Wolverines had just eight turnovers, highlighted by junior Daniel Horton’s 10-assist, one-turnover performance.
That was not the case last night, when Michigan committed 21 unforced errors. There was a four-minute stretch in the first half where the Wolverines committed seven turnovers and produced exactly zero points.
“The turnovers and the offensive rebounds that we gave up tonight have not been characteristic of the way we’ve played lately,” Horton said. “We just have to focus on that tomorrow in practice.”
So how is a team supposed to make up for so many turnovers? Against Iowa, the Wolverines relied on hot shooting in the first half and bend-but-don’t-break defense in the second half.
Against the Hoosiers, Michigan did neither of these things.
“We were impatient,” Amaker said. “I thought we turned (the ball) over, and I thought we missed some shots. When you have all three of those things wrapped up in there, it’s probably going to be a formula for 25-percent shooting (in the second half), and that’s what we shot.”
While the Wolverines did manage to go 12-for-21 from the field in the first half, Indiana stuffed them in the second half, holding Michigan to just 25 percent from the field on 7-for-28 shooting.
Michigan reverted back to the kind of offense that made people cringe during last year’s conference struggles. If the team finds itself down, it abandons the low post game, hands the ball off to Horton or sophomore Dion Harris on the perimeter and hopes one of them can strike gold.
Both members of the backcourt tandem scored 11 points, but the guards’ play was far from heroic. The lone hero on the floor of Assembly Hall was Indiana freshman D.J. White — a curious star considering he was the only big man Indiana could throw at Michigan’s seemingly superior frontcourt, which was boosted by the return of sophomore Brent Petway.
But instead of taking advantage of Indiana’s lack of size, it was the Hoosiers who did the exploiting. White’s 12 second-half points deflated the Wolverines and left them shaking their heads.
With all the old basketball demons haunting the Wolverines once more, now comes the hard part: finding a way to exorcise them. Amaker called out his backcourt of Horton and Harris after the game, stating that Michigan could not continue to win games if the guards continue to play the way they did last night. The last time Amaker did that was after Michigan’s 99-68 loss to then-No. 4 Georgia Tech on Nov. 30. The duo responded with a quality game in a 61-60 win over then-No. 19 Notre Dame five days later.
The best remedy for Michigan’s sudden woes may be to get healthy. Horton is nowhere near 100 percent after returning from his sprained knee, and he was banged up again last night. Michigan is also still without junior forward Chris Hunter, its third-leading scorer.
“Even this early after a loss, we know what we did wrong,” Horton said. “That’s a positive sign with this team. I think if we come ready to practice tomorrow — to focus on that and get better — (we won’t) slide in the wrong direction.”
When all those pieces do come together, maybe Michigan can finally shed the criticisms that have haunted the teams that weren’t quite good enough for the NCAA Tournament in recent years.
Josh Holman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.