Game 8: NJIT at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

In the most unlikely college basketball upset since Gardner Webb won at Kentucky in 2007, NJIT escaped from the Crisler Center with a 72-70 win on Saturday afternoon.

The Highlanders, who had never even faced a top-25 team before traveling to Ann Arbor, have only been a Division I team for six years and their short tenure includes a 51 game losing streak. There were troubling signs of an upset brewing from the early moments of the noon Saturday tip-off.

The Wolverines looked flat and lethargic. The offense lacked any zip – Michigan finished with as many turnovers (8) as assists for the game – and allowed NJIT to hang around despite horrific turnover woes early in the game.

After NJIT started the game with four turnovers and a missed shot, the Wolverines managed just an 8-0 lead. Michigan should have led by more, but instead its lackadaisical play gave the Highlanders the inkling of hope that they so badly needed. The first half was close throughout and in the second half, the wheels fell off for John Beilein’s group.

The Wolverine offense went cold – failing to score for over seven minutes midway through the half – and NJIT put together a 13-0 run to take a seven point lead. Michigan answered with a run of its own and recovered the lead, but the Highlanders answered back by making 7 of their final 11 shots from the field including three incredible three-pointers from Damon Lynn.

Michigan had chances down the stretch, but NJIT finished out the game. Caris LeVert – who was otherwise terrific with 25 second half points – turned the ball over down one with 44 seconds to play and Michigan was unable to secure a defensive rebound after NJIT missed with eight seconds to play.


Michigan’s offense scored 1.19 points per possession, but never seemed to control the game. The Wolverines looked disjointed and were rarely able to find the quick strike offense that defines their greatest success. The offensive attack was largely predicated on isolation basketball and easy baskets were few and far behind against a NJIT defense that played very well.

While the flow of Michigan’s offense might have been frustrating, it still should have been good enough to win the game. Michigan’s offensive performance was almost identical to its season averages of a 52.7 eFG%, 14.5% turnover rate, 31.6% offensive rebound rate and 28.9% free throw rate.

The game was lost with defense.

In the first half, NJIT’s hot shooting was masked by turnovers and a lack of offensive rebounds and free throws. In the second half, the Highlanders kept on shooting and managed to fix all of their first half troubles. The result was one of the worst defensive halves that Michigan has played in years. The Wolverines surrendered a staggering 1.5 points per trip in the final 20 minutes and just couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch.


NJIT’s hot perimeter shooting – 11 of 17 for 65% – made a huge difference, but the Highlanders also out-shot Michigan 55% to 40% on twos. NJIT’s 70.7 eFG% for the game the worst that Michigan surrendered since an 80-61 loss at Indiana on January 15th, 2011

Michigan’s defense struggled to do just about anything other than grab defensive rebounds and then when it mattered most, it couldn’t do that either. The Wolverines were abused defensively in baseline out of bounds sets, backdoor cuts and simple perimeter action. The help defense against NJIT’s dribble-penetration and ball screens was generally absent – Michigan now ranks 292nd in block percentage – and the Highlanders even managed to stop turning the ball over in the second half.

It’s tough to figure out what to make of this Michigan team. The Wolverines lack experience, they lack depth and have major defensive concerns. They also have enough top-end perimeter talent to hang with just about anyone on the country on any given day.

It’s tough to win a game when the opponent shoots 65% from three-point range. twitter

Bad losses happen to good teams in college basketball. That’s no secret. Recent Michigan teams have been able to bounce back from losses to bad teams (Charlotte, at Penn State) and put together very good seasons. Losing to NJIT at home is worse than either of those two defeats, but there are still more than 20 games to play.

It’s tough to win a game when the opponent shoots 65% from three-point range. Michigan’s season isn’t doomed, but this game should serve as the ultimate teaching point for Beilein over the next four months. The Wolverines aren’t good enough to coast through games and there’s no questioning that after this ‘humbling’ home defeat.

Allison Farrand

Player Bullets:

  • Caris LeVert: LeVert had an average first half, but his offensive wizardry kept Michigan in the game during the tail end of the second half. He hit everything down the stretch from threes off the dribble to mid-range floaters and strong takes to the basket. LeVert scored 25 points on 11 shots in the second half and his final line featured a career-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting (6-8 3pt) with six rebounds, four steals and three turnovers.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton really had his mid-range jumper working and finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but his four turnovers were a concern. Several of them were due to lazy post entry passes that were picked off. Michigan rarely throws the ball down low, but seemed focused on trying to establish that element of the game early on.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin just couldn’t find his range, finishing 2-of-11 from the floor and just 1-of-8 from three-point range. If Irvin comes close to his season averages shooting the ball, this is probably a game that Michigan wins easily but he just couldn’t find his range. He had a number of open looks, they just didn’t fall. Irvin has been more aggressive attacking the rim in some other games where his shooting slumped, but that production was lacking today. His biggest play of the game was a late block that setup Michigan’s second to last possession.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman consistently let one mistake turn into two. He was 0-of-6 from the floor and had his shot blocked quite a bit around the basket and in the mid-range. The troubling part of his performance wasn’t just that he missed shots, it was that he usually followed up a bad offensive play with a bad defensive play. Chatman’s freshman season feels a bit like Darius Morris’ at this point where he just hasn’t been able to make the steady adjustment quite yet.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal had a nice offensive game with his first three of the year and a nice little hook shot. He finished with 7 points and two rebounds in 15 minutes in one of his better performances of the year.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle scored 2 points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes, snapping his streak of several very good performances in a row. Doyle seemed to get pulled away from the hoop quite a bit and was late helping on several NJIT drives.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht drew a handful of charges, but for one of the first times this season he seemed to really get picked on defensively. He fouled out in 27 minutes and was -5 for the game, the worst of any Michigan players. He also seems to be nursing some sort of finger injury (h/t: Allison Farrand).
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played for less than a minute and was promptly pulled in the first half. It seems clear that Beilein doesn’t quite trust him on the floor, but he admitted it might be time to start. “Maybe it’s my fault (that we don’t have more depth),” Beilein said. “I’ve got to put them in the game to find out. We haven’t seen it in practice, the type of efficiency that would lend to game play yet in a couple of areas. We have to keep working in practice. When I see it in practice, get in there. But it is a thing, we have to develop this bench right now.”
  • Nick

    Zak needs to be more assertive. He often had a much smaller guard on him, yet I can’t remember him ever trying to get inside the arc for an easier mid range jump shot, as Caris did multiple times.

    • jlustig22

      Yeah, I like Irvin off those pin downs screens where can rise and Fire from the elbow. Haven’t seen much of those lately. He had good looks today but didn’t knock them down. He should be able to do more than just wait out by the three point line though. He has 5 assists on the entire season.

      The offense seems to be relying on a lot of one on one play. LeVert excels at that but Walton should be able to do more with ball screens out top. It’s becoming clear that he’s not much of a distributor. He’s avg 3 assists per game this year and hasn’t shown to be that good in the half court setting people up. He’s good at finding people in transition but I think he needs a lot of work in the halfcourt offense.

      That’s a good comparison between Chatman’s freshman year and Darius Morris’. He has been very underwhelming so far and maybe it will take till his sophomore year for him to become a player. Unfortunately, I think for Michigan to be as good as we all hope this year, we need Chatman to be a solid player. He has some nice skills but if he can’t develop a midrange or 3 pt shot, it will be a struggle for him. His lack of athleticism will always be a hindrance finishing around the basket.

      • sid

        The bigmen are not capable of picking and rolling well which is UM’s bread and butter.

        Give Levert and Walton, Morford and GR3 and thats 2-3 more assist pr game.

  • robpollard

    Yeah, Chatman is young and definitely looks it. He is a mess. Even on his few good plays, he usually is not making it easy on himself. For example, he got a ball about 7 ft from the basket and was open for a drive/dunk; instead, he hesitated and threw a wrap-around pass to Walton (who hit a 3). While that’s nice, UM needs folks who attack the basket for the easy two, when it’s there. He looks completely unsure of himself. Hopefully, that will get better as the season progress.

    And yes, Coach B is right — he needs to trust the bench. It would be one thing if Chatman (and today, Irvin) were lighting it up/locking down. When they’re not, give someone else a real chance — they’re all young, they all have to grow with game experience.

    • Corperryale

      … and in giving the bench players a chance (I am referring here to Rahk, Dawkins, and Wilson when he’s healthy), JB should let them play through their mistakes. Can’t yank them for every telegraphed pass, missed lay-in, off-ball foul or turnover, or they will never get the confidence to step up.

      The good news is that we can erase this loss — I mean, as in “it never happened” — with a win in Tucson.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree Beilein should have given Dawkins a chance in the 2nd half. It could not have been worse than Chatman and Zak. But, the good thing about Beilein is he admits he should have maybe done something different. Never saw or heard that on the gridiron this year.

  • Hail Blue

    I just dont understand how we can play so well against Nova in Brooklyn. Beat a top 40 team in Syracuse at home, and then completely blow up against NJIT.

  • Indiana_Matt

    This might be nonsensical, but when I looked at our schedule to start the year the one game I thought we might just get blown out would be on the road at Arizona and now I think we will at least make that game very close. They won their last couple by very slim margins. Our intensity and focus should be (should be) excellent going in there after being humbled.

    • Corperryale

      Agree, although they physically abused Gonzaga and largely got away with it on their home court. Michigan will need to hang tough and keep its flow and composure in the face of Arizona’s ruthless manhandling.

    • Chezaroo

      Love the optimism and we do play to our competition, but those slim margins you’re referencing of Arizona came against SDSU and Gonzaga! Those are two brutally defensive tough squads and potentially top ten teams. We have no comparable bigs to contest Zona’s front court, and that home crowd is maddening. As always, if we shoot well we have a chance, but this team is gonna have a lot of ups and downs and that looks to be a difficult task. If we can’t knock down open threes ( Irvin ) we lose.

      • Indiana_Matt

        Very true. I hope our shots fall and we make a game of it.

  • MAZS

    I disagree on Donnal. Other than the 3, he did nothing. While I suspect it is partially his demeanor, Donnal often looks almost disinterested on the court. He doesn’t make himself available on the offensive end and moves at 3/4s speed at best. He certainly shows no interest in mixing it up whatsoever–which he simply has to do if he is playing the 5.

    • Chezaroo

      HIs mentality is that of a perimeter player. He wants nothing to do with the 5. He’s there by necessity only, and his PT keeps dropping. He’s really a stretch four.

      • MAZS

        I agree on the mentality, but at 6’9″, he is a 4 anytime, anywhere–not a 3. Right now he isn’t close to physical enough to be an effective 4. Gotta defend and rebound a little–and at least look interested in doing so.

        • Chris De Sana

          You think Kam is more physical than Donnal? Because if being physical is the key to being a quality 4 than we have not had one since Coach B arrived on the scene and probably do not have one on the current roster either.

  • drbopperthp

    Jeez – maybe they were all just high ala the 2007 football team when Appalachian St. popped their bubble. I’m not singing the fight song as often as I used to do…

  • jimbardo

    As Aaron Rodgers said to Packers nation earlier this season. R-E-L-A-X. This team is young and will be fine come March when it’s time for another tourney run.

  • Chris De Sana

    Caris showed he is prime time on the offensive side but on the defensive side he is not nearly as good as advertised.
    Zak needs to be more than a guy who stands still waiting someone else to create his scoring opportunity, and coach needs to run more screens for him especially if he is struggling from the 3 ball. He has shown he can drive and hit mid range shots but in this game they did not adjust. In addition other than a very good block in the last couple of minutes his defense needs to be better as well.
    Walton is still not 100% but like his ability to get in the paint and hit the mid range jumper. That said he needs to get better at understanding how to deliver a pass down to the blocks, poor angles equal turnovers.
    Kam continues to struggle on both ends of the court, Dawkins deserves some of his minutes.
    Donnal and Doyle are what they are….both have potential and will have good games and bad but neither will ever deter someone from going to the hoop or be a rebounding machine, two things Michigan has not had in a long time. I still say they should try a few minutes with them both in the line up.
    Spike got abused on the defensive side of the ball this game and over penetrated on the offensive side a few times leading to turnovers.

    All in all not really that shocked, we are a young team that relies heavily on the 3 ball which means when they do not fall we are veryyyyyyyy beatable.

    • ChathaM

      Good points re: Irvin. He’s a good shooter; not a great one. So, he can’t be content to settle for perimeter jumpers the way he did today. I saw several opportunities for him to drive the baseline, and he chose not to do that today. He also looked a bit slow on the other end of the floor, and we wondered whether he was sick today.

      • Chris De Sana

        Our supposed two best on ball defenders (Caris & Zak) got beat regularly and so did the team. As mentioned above having a rim defender would certainly be nice but it appears Coach B does not really go after that type of player.

        • ChathaM

          I think he does go after that type of player, although I expect it isn’t as high a priority as it is for certain other teams. McGary would have been a solid rim defender on this year’s team, but of course, circumstances dictated that he leave school. On a more general level, what the team lost from last year’s early departures is apparent every night.

          • Chris De Sana

            We do not agree on Mitch and his ability to protect the rim, take a charge yes but send a ball away at the rim not so much in my opinion.

  • umnyc

    I’ve never loved Beilein’s defensive strategy other than the 1-3-1, but our offense is usually so efficient that you can deal with the soft defense. Truth is we lost to a team that shot 70% from 3. Whether is Kentucky or NJIT chances are youre going to lose if you’re on the opposite end of that stat. I think we’ll be fine… Just need to be patient while our freshman grow up a bit (Chatman), and our stars hit their stride (Irvin). As stated below, Coack B also needs to trust the fresh a little more too, especially when they show glimpses of positive play. Donnal got yanked 2 seconds after he had a nice little 5 point stretch. We should look to ride that a bit more.

  • ChathaM

    It’s a bad loss, but NJIT deserves a ton of credit for this win. As Beilein said, they hit some very difficult shots down the stretch to secure the win. Only one of Lynn’s late 3’s came without a M defender right in his face, and there were a couple of low percentage runners in the lane that fell as well. NJIT didn’t miss a late free throw. The other surprise to me was the quality of NJIT’s halfcourt defence. Their guys were rarely out of position, and they contributed a lot to M’s (but not Irvin’s…man, he missed open look after open look) poor shooting performance. That said, NJIT is not a strong team, and losses like this can look very bad on a bubble team’s tourney resume. Hopefully, it doesn’t get to that point.