EAST LANSING — The Michigan men’s basketball team is running out of answers after losses like Sundays.
“Lack of focus or something,” junior Manny Harris said in the locker room, his head dipped. “They just outplayed us.”
It’s hard for anyone to explain a game like the one Michigan played Sunday against Michigan State, especially when the 64-48 loss wasn’t even as close as the final score implied.
Given how well the Wolverines played in their last game, a home win against Minnesota, explanations become even more difficult. Then, Michigan shot 60 percent and played suffocating defense to soundly beat a team that had a lot more to play for.
Yesterday? Michigan was attacked from the opening tip by Michigan State’s physical style of play. The Wolverines responded poorly, turning the ball over and allowing the Spartans to bully them in the post.
“It was almost like our game (against Minnesota) last week, but in reverse,” sophomore Zack Novak said.
Michigan (7-11 Big Ten, 14-16 overall) was in the game for the first nine minutes, thanks mostly to Michigan State’s own propensity for turning the ball over.
But about halfway through the first half, Spartan sophomore Delvon Roe grabbed an offensive rebound and got the putback. Then, senior Raymar Morgan hit a jumper stole the ball on the other end and slammed home a dunk. The score had gone from a manageable 13-8 to a seemingly insurmountable 19-8 Michigan State advantage.
And the Wolverines never recovered.
Michigan scored 14 total points in the first half, which wasn’t just the worst first-half point totals for Michigan — it tied for the lowest total this year in the entire conference. The Wolverines shooting 1-of-11 from beyond the arc had something to do with that.
Michigan State’s extremely physical defense also had something to do with it.
“That was probably one of the more physical games we’ve ever played,” senior DeShawn Sims said. “But that was their M.O., be physical against Michigan.”
The second half didn’t offer much reprieve.
Michigan didn’t score for the first four minutes of the second frame and allowed the Spartans (14-4, 24-7) to stretch their already sizeable lead to 28. At one point, Morgan’s personal point total topped that of the entire Michigan team, 17-14.
“The first four minutes of the second half we knew were going to be crucial and the lead got pushed to 30 real quick,” Novak said. “And you can’t recover from something like that in a place like this.”
It’s true it’s extremely difficult — especially at the Breslin Center, home to one of the rowdiest student sections in the country — and the Wolverines didn’t. Michigan State kept piling on with little resistance and easily claimed a share of the Big Ten title with the victory.
This loss leaves Michigan about as flat as a team can be heading into the Big Ten Tournament, the team’s only hope for a postseason. The Wolverines will have to make some serious noise in the tournament to even think about the NIT, and they need to win it for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Ultimately, this loss means that even now, at the end of the season, when teams are supposed to have resolved most of their questions, Michigan is still without answers.