In theory, at least, it’s Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange who know how to run a 2-3 zone. In practice, it’s Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad, which held Michigan to just 21 first-half points in a historic 45-42 loss Tuesday night at Crisler Center.

The Wolverines fought through the Syracuse zone en route to a 68-65 win Dec. 2, but were surprisingly unable to crack Eastern Michigan’s defensive alignment, led by Murphy, a Syracuse assistant under Boeheim from 2004-11. When they did crack the zone, it made little difference — Michigan struggled on the few open looks it found and went a combined 14-for-43 from the field.

“You’re always going to have nights when shots aren’t falling,” said junior guard Spike Albrecht. “That’s when you find out how good you really are.”

If Albrecht took the Wolverines’ shooting performance as an answer, it wasn’t a happy one. In the first frame, Michigan went 1-for-10 from 3-point range and stumbled through a field-goal drought of 13 minutes, 43 seconds.

Michigan coach John Beilein credited the offensive struggles almost entirely to Eastern Michigan’s defense.

“That was as good a zone defense as I’ve ever seen at any time, anywhere,” Beilein said. “That was as quick a zone defense as I’ve ever seen at any time, anywhere.”

The Eagles’ defensive quickness deprived the Wolverine offense of several of its staples. Michigan’s resident sharpshooter — sophomore forward Zak Irvin — had a 3-pointer blocked minutes into the game and airballed a second soon after.

Junior guard Caris LeVert, who dropped 32 points against New Jersey Institute of Technology on Saturday, missed the rim entirely on a 3-point attempt minutes later, and Albrecht found only the back rim on a deep trey attempt of his own soon after. Collectively, the Wolverines made just four of 21 attempts from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t get open shots,” Beilein said. “If you’re missing a lot of open shots, you might have a confidence issue. We didn’t get many open shots.”

Having watched Michigan successfully navigate the Syracuse zone just seven days prior to his team’s historic win, Murphy and his staff had a chance to review game tape that revealed how the Wolverines might attack the 2-3.

“We play our zones very similar, if not the same,” Murphy said. “We knew the actions they would run, but in saying that, you still have to guard it.”

The defeat marked Michigan’s second straight home loss to an unranked opponent from a non-power conference. But Beilein’s reasons for each loss differed substantially.

“One of the ways (NJIT) beat us was that we didn’t have that same hustle, that same type of intensity that we need,” Beilein said. “This was an intense game. Our guys really worked hard.”

Rebounding, too, distinguished the Wolverines’ markedly different attempts at beating the 2-3 from one another.

“Who would think that we would get 17 offensive rebounds against Syracuse,” Beilein asked, “and two against Eastern Michigan?”

In the end, the Eagles proved it was their athleticism — not the name on their jersey and longtime status as a second-class school within Washtenaw County — that mattered to the Wolverines.

“Because it’s a local team, they’re really down,” Beilein said of his squad’s postgame mood. “We can’t stay down. We’ve just got to move forward.”

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