If you were looking for the Michigan men’s basketball team to bounce back against Eastern Michigan with a dominant showing, you would’ve been sorely disappointed.
But unlike Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, it wasn’t hot shooting from the Wolverines’ opponent that kept Michigan from pulling away. It was simply that Michigan couldn’t make a shot when it mattered and Eastern Michigan could, even though its shooting wasn’t much better.
Both teams shot 32.6 percent in the game, and Eastern Michigan (8-1) pulled out the 45-42 victory, defeating the Wolverines for the first time since Dec. 17, 1997.
“The intensity was there from our side,” said sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. “It’s a little different from the last loss (against NJIT) when the team just hit tough shots. When we don’t shoot the ball as we’re accustomed to, you try to get it going in other areas. It’s tough. It was just a tough night. It was hard to get it going today.”
Despite shooting just 6-for-25 in the first half, Michigan (6-3) entered the second half up by two, simply because the Eagles shot even more poorly — 5-for-19.
The theme held true to the end, as Michigan trailed by three with 42 seconds left following an Eastern Michigan turnover in the backcourt. With a fresh shot clock, Michigan had its option of shots, and it went to junior guard Caris LeVert behind the 3-point line. But just as Michigan had so many times, LeVert’s shot missed.
Michigan got another chance in the game’s waning seconds, after the Eagles missed the front end of a one-and-one. But the ball got loose near midcourt, ultimately rolling into the backcourt, where senior forward Max Bielfeldt picked it up and called timeout.
With 2.4 seconds left, sophomore guard Zak Irvin forced up a heave from near midcourt, but again, the ball found no twine.
Going against another 2-3 zone defense, this one quicker than Syracuse’s from last week, Michigan struggled on the offensive end. After recording 17 offensive rebounds against the Orange, Michigan had just two on Tuesday, and was outrebounded, 36-27.
“When we did get open shots, which was rarely, we didn’t make enough of those,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “And we had some costly turnovers that are uncharacteristic, but it had a lot to do with their quickness and their style of defense.”
With a first-half field-goal drought that lasted 13:43, nothing seemed to go right for Michigan on Tuesday night. Besides Walton’s nine first-half points, there truly wasn’t another significant positive statistic for the Wolverines. With the rest of the team contributing just 12 points in the stanza, the Wolverines needed late-game stops and clutch baskets to have a chance.
But with Irvin and LeVert tallying just 10 points a piece, the Wolverines came out short once again, snapping their Big Ten leading 59-game streak without losing back-to-back games.
Despite the loss, though, Beilein still believes the season is young, even with No. 3 Arizona next on deck.
“This is the way it is all year long,” Beilein said. “So there’s no panic button. It is December 8 — December 9 — and it is a long way. “