MINNEAPOLIS – Maybe next season, after the Michigan men’s basketball team has had more time to reflect on what went wrong this year, it will be able to take better advantage of opportunities like last night.
Holding onto a lead midway through the second half, the Wolverines watched it all disintegrate thanks to awful shooting, eventually falling 69-60 to Minnesota at Williams Arena. Michigan shot a dreadful 26.3 percent from the field after halftime, and saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.
It would be one thing if the horrendous accuracy were due to some sort of defensive adjustment by the Gophers. But in the locker room afterwards, Wolverine players were well aware where the blame should fall.
“We missed some open shots,” sophomore DeShawn Sims said. “They didn’t really do anything to us.”
With just over 14 minutes remaining in the game, Michigan (4-10 Big Ten, 8-18 overall) took its largest lead, 49-44, courtesy of a tip in from sophomore Ekpe Udoh. From there, Michigan mustered just two field goals over the next 13 minutes. By the time the scoring malaise was complete, Minnesota (6-7, 16-9) had taken an 11-point lead, and the contest was essentially finished.
After combining for 49 points against Ohio State last Sunday, Sims and freshman Manny Harris were held scoreless for the final 15 minutes of the game. Michigan coach John Beilein even benched Harris for the last four minutes of the game, just three days after the Detroit native was named Big Ten Player of the Week.
“He’s better than that,” said Beilein of Harris’s four-point, three-turnover performance after halftime. “He’s so much better than that.”
It didn’t help that the Wolverines continued to shoot often and inaccurately from 3-point range. The team finished 5-for-26 beyond the arc, including an ugly 2-for-16 in the second half.
Minnesota guard Lawrence McKenzie was on the other end of the spectrum. The senior scored a career-high 26 points, thanks to seven 3-pointers. None were more important or impressive than a seemingly impossible fadeaway with less than seven minutes remaining as the shot clock expired and his team clung to a three-point lead.
As a whole, the Gophers made more than 40 percent of their long-range shots, including their first four of the game to take an early 15-5 lead.
But Michigan responded from the early surge, going on its own 14-4 run to square things up at 19. The Wolverines took a one-point lead into halftime thanks largely to the play of Harris and Sims. The duo combined for 23 first-half points and helped to quiet a raucous crowd.
Then the all-too-familiar scoring drought reared its ugly head. Harris and Sims put up just nine points in the second half, and the team suffered accordingly, scoring just 25 total in the final 20 minutes.
It’s all the more disturbing considering Michigan’s recent win streak was due in large part to its ability to hit the open shots it hadn’t been making much of the season.
Old habits, like losing seasons, are hard to break.
“We had some really good looks,” Beilein said. “Some really, really good looks. . But we got back to our old self.”
Notes: After emerging as the team’s much-needed third scorer, sophomore Anthony Wright was held to just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. The redshirt freshman started the second half in place of senior Ron Coleman. . The Wolverines had 23 offensive rebounds and outboarded Minnesota, 42-36.