There are no moral victories in a league where every game seems to boils down to a one or two possession battle. Games are opportunities and losses are missed opportunities. Michigan let a golden chance for a coveted road victory slip away at Assembly Hall on Thursday night. The Wolverines never led but had four shots and a desperation heave to tie or take the lead in the final three minutes of play. Those shots all rimmed out and Michigan’s last gasp effort fell short. The Wolverines missed out on their third win at Assembly Hall in almost a quarter-century and Indiana escaped with a 73-71 victory.
For 15 minutes on Thursday night, Michigan looked like a team playing its first Big Ten road game. At that point, down 33-18, the Wolverines looked defeated but they battled back. Michigan outscored Indiana by 13 points over the final 25 minutes but it wasn’t enough. The slow start against a good opponent in relatively adverse conditions was eerily similar to either of the last two Michigan games against Duke where Michigan simply dug itself too deep of a hole to overcome.
Michigan’s offense, especially given its star’s shooting struggles, was pretty solid on the day. The Wolverines amassed 1.08 points per possession against Indiana, which is the second best mark allowed by the Hoosiers this season. Michigan shot 50% (17-34) on twos and more importantly 42% (10-24) on threes. Douglass, Novak, Smotrycz and McLimans were a combined 8-of-12 from three point range. Michigan rebounded 27% of its misses which isn’t a great number but did allow for 11 second chance points. An 18 percent turnover rate isn’t too shabby but there were still a couple careless giveaways that really seemed to cost the Wolverines. There were a lot of sloppy or manufactured points but when this team can seem to play a bad offensive game and still score at this rate it means the offense is probably going to be okay headed forward.
The Michigan offense was good enough to win but the defense was a shade below acceptable, mostly due to early struggles. The Wolverines surrendered 1.11 points per trip and just couldn’t force Indiana into enough bad looks from the field. The Hoosiers scorched the nets inside and out, 53% on twos (20-38) and 64% on threes (7-11). Christian Watford was mostly unstoppable when Indiana went his way (25 points on 11 shots) and Cody Zeller was equally efficient (18 points on 10 shots). Watford was 3-of-4 on three point attempts while the only Hoosier to miss a three was Victor Oladipo (2 for 10, 0-3 3pt). Michigan was able to hang with Indiana because of a dominating performance on the defensive glass, grabbing 75% of Indiana’s misses, and forcing turnovers on almost a quarter of the Hoosier’s possessions. There were bad stretches for the Wolverine defense but five consecutive stops late in the second half were the only reason that Michigan had a chance to win this game near the end.
This loss is frustrating because there were so many possessions that Michigan seemed to give away. Silly turnovers off of inbound plays, bad or rushed shots, open Indiana shots because of miscommunication in transition or a bad rotation, missed free throws (even a front end of a one-and-one). It’s almost impossible to win on the road in this league when you give that many possessions away on both ends of the floor. Those are also great teaching moments. This team will improve over the next two to three months if it learns how to minimize those mistakes.
If this game leaves a bitter taste, there probably isn’t a more motivating team to welcome into Crisler Arena than Wisconsin. The Badgers travel to Ann Arbor on Sunday for a nationally televised game which will give the Wolverines an opportunity to avenge this play.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan has struggled at times this season but he flat out battled at Assembly Hall. You’ll often hear Michigan players refer to being the hammer and not the nail, Morgan was the hammer tonight. Michigan gave up points in the paint (Watford and Zeller scored 43 points on 21 shots) but I think Morgan played strong defense. He grabbed nine rebounds, finished very well around the basket (6-7 fga) and didn’t turn the ball over. On one possession he went hurtling toward the Indiana bench flying for a loose ball, he didn’t save the ball but he was lucky that he didn’t fly into a railing. That’s the sort of intensity that he seemed to play with, while staying out of foul trouble, for a career high 34 minutes.
- Trey Burke: John Beilein denied it after the game but, for the first time all season, Burke finally looked a bit like a freshman – at least by my eyes. Then my eyes look at the stat sheet and notice that Burke almost had a triple double: 10 points on 4 of 15 (2-5 3pt) shooting with eight assists and seven rebounds. Sure he turned the ball over four times and left points on the free throw line but you have to take a step back and realize the situation he’s in. He’s a true freshman in his first road game that’s running the Michigan offense, leading the team in minutes, creating scoring opportunities and all but shutting down Jordan Hulls (3 points on 4 shots). Burke is only going to grow and get better going forward.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass hit some huge threes in the first half to keep Michigan treading water and he did a great job defensively all night, mostly on Verdell Jones all night long (8 points, 3-6 fg, 4 TO). He plays the most physical perimeter defense and, yes, it cost him late but it’s the kind of defense that you have to play in the Big Ten. 11 points, two assists, one turnover and good defense off the bench is about all you can ask for. He missed the late three, and didn’t quite get his feet set, but a lot of people missed opportunities down the stretch.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is an emotional player and there’s no doubt that his three point shooting slump is beginning to affect his game. He’s now made just 4 of his last 33 three point attempts (0-7 tonight) and looks like he’s starting to question himself a bit from three point range. He’s still scoring, 19 points today, and is effective inside the arc (7 of 12) but he starts to let his struggles affect his confidence and his defense. He just has to play through it because he will single handily change games if he’s hitting his threes.
- Evan Smotrycz: I was very nervous about this match-up for Smotrycz and he had some struggles but he also made a few plays. Michigan was outscored by 13 points while he was on the floor, a stat that doesn’t say everything but also isn’t very encouraging. Watford at the four and Zeller at the five are both very difficult match-ups for Smotrycz and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back against Wisconsin.
- Zack Novak: Novak is going to try to take charges and sometimes it might cost him, in this game it sidelined him for most of the first half. Given how close a charge call can be, and the fact that a charge he took late in the second half almost swung the game in Michigan’s favor, it’s tough to suggest he try anything else. He hit a pair of huge threes in the second half, the first one to open the second half which made it clear that Michigan had every intention of coming back.
- Matt Vogrich: A Club Trillion-esque stat line in five minutes beside one turnover. Vogrich didn’t do much and didn’t even seem to come close to any shot opportunities.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans really gave Michigan quality minutes, even at the four position. He hit a three (shot with no hesitation) and played admirably against Watford. Watford got the best of him but Blake didn’t look nearly as out of place in a hostile environment as one might expect. Michigan outscored Indiana by six points (16-10) during the seven minutes that Blake was on the floor.