Once again, shaky overtime mars surprising performance by Michigan

Alejandro Zúñiga

EAST LANSING — Let’s face it: The Michigan basketball team’s season would look much different right now if it had stolen a pair of overtime games rather than lost them.

Both contests were right there for the taking. On Jan. 24, Derrick Walton Jr.’s clutch three-pointer with time expiring against No. 6 Wisconsin forced an extra period, but the Badgers scored the first six of overtime and never looked back.

Then came Sunday against Michigan State at the Breslin Center, when the Wolverines led for large stretches of the second half. The Spartans went on a 9-0 run to go up five with 90 seconds left, but a three-pointer by Spike Albrecht and putback by Max Bielfeldt again sent the game to overtime.

But Michigan couldn’t score in those five minutes, and another opportunity for a résumé-building victory slipped through its fingers.

“We had a couple of good looks that didn’t go in,” explained John Beilein. “We probably panicked when we got down by six.”

The coach was right: The Wolverines had their chances in the added frame. On their first possession, Albrecht was left alone at the top of the key on a botched switch by the Spartans, but the junior’s three-pointer rattled out. On Michigan’s next possession, Bielfeldt took what Beilein later called an “ill-advised three,” which also missed. Couple that with a turnover and a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one, and the Wolverines found themselves down six with just two minutes left.

That time, there was no miracle comeback.

“I like to think of it as a really close overtime game instead of the disappointing way we played in overtime,” Beilein said. “But we’ll grow from it. Failure is fertilizer for growth, so we have all kinds of sprinkles of fertilizer out there today.”

There were several spots where the growth was evident. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman continued to one-up himself, scoring 18 points in 32 minutes and continuing to establish himself as Michigan’s best offensive weapon — he made plays Beilein admitted he has never seen before from the freshman. Albrecht had a productive afternoon as well, tallying 14 of his 18 points in the second half.

“I saw the old Spike Albrecht back out there,” Beilein said.

But there are areas where there just hasn’t been enough improvement, which Michigan desperately needed with Mark Donnal, Walton and Caris LeVert all out — the latter pair for the long-term. Kameron Chatman still hasn’t gotten his footing at the college level, and Zak Irvin’s adjustment from a three-point sparkplug last year to a starting forward this season hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated.

“Your jump shot shouldn’t get blocked,” Beilein said, unprompted, alluding to Irvin. “You should shot fake and go to the basket. Those types of things changed the momentum.”

The sophomore was rejected for a final time with a minute left in overtime and Denzel Valentine scored in transition, effectively ending the game.

“Overtime was not Michigan basketball,” Albrecht said.

The reality is that feeling let down by Sunday’s loss demonstrates how far Michigan has improved this season. The Wolverines ran two walk-ons, two freshmen and a sophomore at the same time for much of the first half and held their own.

Michigan had Michigan State on the ropes, and a season-changing win was right there for the taking.

Instead came the overtime shutout and another disappointment. But until that point, just like against Wisconsin, they sure made it interesting.

  • Indiana_Matt

    In Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology we’ve jumped up to “Next Four Out.” Considering everything that has happened this season, that was somewhat of a surprise to see. We are a basket or two against Villanova and a mere basket against NJIT, Eastern, Wisconsin and MSU from probably being a 4 seed. This game is crazy. However, close only counts in horseshoes…

    • Indiana_Matt

      And in ESPN’s daily RPI, it shows that amongst 9 loss teams are are the 3rd best in the nation (behind NC State and UCLA).

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      I think we were one free throw away from beating Villanova. Its crazy how close. But I also feel that the struggles we have faced have made us stronger. I still firmly believe we will make the tournament. It starts with a win this Thursday against Iowa (who is currently considered in). Michigan State is nowhere near a lock as well and they have a tough stretch to end the season. I love that we get them at our place and when we beat them, it will be glorious.

  • Champswest

    It is hard to be too critical of this team given the current state of the roster, especially when they play hard and compete against higher regarded teams. It is great to see the evolution of individuals and the team.

  • MAZS

    Without actually attempting a statistical analysis, the eyeball test tells me that the better team (at least on paper) almost always wins in overtime. I think there a number of physical and psychological reasons for this. I’d just as soon stay out of OT the rest of the season.

  • Mattski

    Just can’t get it up to get down about the loss.