Midway through the fourth quarter, with her team trailing by eight, freshman forward Naz Hillmon cut off an inbound pass on the opposing team’s side of the court for a steal. She dished a quick pass to junior guard Akienreh Johnson, who was running ahead of the pack.
But Johnson missed her layup.
That play epitomized the whole night. The Michigan women’s basketball team (5-2) put in a solid defensive effort to hang with No. 13 North Carolina State (7-0), but in the end, it was not enough. The offense struggled to capitalize when it mattered, and the Wolverines fell, 66-55, Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C.
“I think our defense was really good,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to WTKA. “I think we had opportunities to stretch the lead and we missed some transition stuff. We missed some easy stuff when we had a chance to do that.”
Michigan led, 32-29, at the half, but the Wolfpack returned from the break with energy. NC State used its physicality to grab offensive boards — sparking some scoring — and also made its way to the free throw line.
“I thought in the second half we tried to come out and turn it up a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “But they’re a good team, and they’re really a good team at home.”
The Wolfpack started building offensive momentum and soon went on an 11-0 run extending into the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines cut into this lead, but could not get back in it.
“I think they just packed the paint, and we kinda got stagnant a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “We didn’t have movement, they were physical, our posts didn’t get down low. Our spacing was bad, we didn’t really have driving lanes and we just got a little stagnant.”
The game started out sloppy. Neither offense found its rhythm, and as a result, there were numerous ugly shots. At the first media timeout the statline looked bleak, with Michigan and NC State shooting 18 and 27 percent from the field, respectively.
“We just gotta continue to improve,” Barnes Arico said. “We have to get better on the offensive end. We have to have better ball movement, we have to have some post touches, we gotta get stronger and be more physical.”
The Wolverines typically look to senior center Hallie Thome as a reliable option, as she usually towers over defenders. But 6-foot-5 freshman center Elissa Cunane locked down on Thome early, forcing her to take shots from unnatural angles. Thome finished with just seven points and was clearly not in her element.
With just over four minutes left in the opening frame, she caught a pass at the edge of the paint. But before she could show the moves, Cunane poked the ball out of her hands for a turnover. And at the other end, Cunane proceeded to drive baseline on Thome for an easy basket.
With Thome out of commision, the Wolverines looked to junior guard Nicole Munger. With about three and a half minutes remaining in the first stanza, she drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to dampen Michigan’s shooting woes.
That triple was the first of many scoring opportunities for Munger. She went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished the game with a team-high 18 points, while shooting close to 78 percent from the field. But regardless of her inspiring performance, the Wolfpack were too much for the Wolverines.
Despite the loss, the matchup against a ranked opponent still gave Michigan valuable experience.
“We try to put ourselves in this environment to prepare us for the Big Ten,” Barnes Arico said. “So this was a great environment for our kids to play in tonight for sure.”