Michigan and Northwestern played 50 minutes of thrilling basketball on Tuesday evening, but it was 50 minutes filled with the mistakes that you would expect from teams hovering around .500 in the final week of the regular season.
For a shorthanded Michigan team that has suffered through so many heartbreaking defeats already this season, this one might have been the worst. Despite playing 39 minutes of great basketball, the Wolverines failed again and again to close out the game.
Zak Irvin had free throws to ice the game with 15 seconds left in regulation. He missed the front end and Tre Demps hit a 29 foot step back three to send the game to overtime.
After falling behind in overtime, Michigan made three straight three-pointers and Spike Albrecht had the chance to stretch the lead to seven points with 16 seconds left in overtime. He missed a free throw and left the door open once again.
Even after Tre Demps seized the moment and buried another three, Michigan just needed to inbound the ball and make free throws to win the game. Instead the Wolverines threw the ball out of bounds, opted not to foul and let Demps hit another three.
Michigan needed to make one more play to ice this game away or it needed Northwestern to make one more mistake. The Wolverines didn’t finish and the Wildcats came through.
Michigan played a near-flawless first half on the offensive end of the floor, racking up 1.35 points per possession, but hit its patented drought midway through the second half. That allowed Northwestern back into the game, but overall we saw some positive signs from Michigan’s offense against the 2-3 zone as Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht and Aubrey Dawkins all made big plays.
The offense was carried by the three-point shot (11 of 24) as was expected against Northwestern’s 2-3 zone, and Michigan’s ability to finish inside declined as the game wore on (44% on twos). The Wolverines did get to the line fairly often, but those numbers were aided by two fouls on three-point attempts in the first half along with the late-game fouling.
Defensively, I thought Michigan did some good things at times but the Wolverines had no answer for Alex Olah, who finished with 25 points (12-18 fg), 12 rebounds. I thought Chris Collins made a mistake sitting Olah for so long in the first half and that allowed Michigan to seize control of the game. It didn’t matter what Michigan did, when Olah touched the ball the Wildcats normally scored.
Tre Demps hit the huge shots late in the game, but Michigan did a great job on him for the first 39 minutes and 56 seconds. Demps scored 13 of his 20 points in the final 4 seconds of regulation and in overtime.
There’s no hiding the fact that Michigan made a litany of mistakes down the stretch. Plenty of those were attributable to the coaching staff – inbounding woes, not fouling in overtime, the horrific inbound play with 2 seconds left in regulation – and others to the players, especially at the free throw line.
I’m okay with not fouling at the end of regulation – especially after Michigan had just given up an offensive rebound on a free throw – but at the end of the second overtime was the appropriate time to foul. One way or another, this has to be Beilein’s decision not a vote in the huddle.
Beilein gave players a vote whether to foul before last demps 3. All voted to play it out.
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) March 4, 2015
It would be remiss not to mention just how many minutes Michigan’s starters played, they logged 49, 49, 47, 47 and 30 minutes. Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht hit so many big shots in this game that it’s hard to pile on, especially when Michigan shot 81% at the line, but the reality is if they hit those free throws they win the game.
I’m not sure how this group can bounce back from this one. Saturday’s home game against Rutgers is still a chance to end the season on a high note, but it seems like each loss hurts a little more than the last. Derrick Walton warmed up for the second consecutive game before sitting out so it seems there could be at least a chance we’ll see him next week in Chicago.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was tremendous in this game (other than the free throw at the end of regulation) and continues to show that he’s figuring out how to be a more complete player. He had a great pass off of the pick and roll and was lethal in the mid-range pull-up game all night. He was 9 of 10 at the free throw line and grabbed 11 rebounds in 49 minutes.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins really struggled the last time out at Maryland, but he was tremendous in this one. He had his three-point shot working (4 of 7), but that wasn’t the full story. He had a couple of great dishes, was active defensively (although he still gets caught ball watching far too often), had a nice follow-up layup, a huge block in the second overtime and even got out in transition. He still needs to be stronger on defense and on the glass, but his offensive game is starting to mature.
- Spike Albrecht: 16 points on 5 of 10 (2-3 3pt) shooting, eight assists and five rebounds for Spike Albrecht as he went for double figures for the eighth straight game. He hit some incredibly important shots – two big threes, a nasty mid-range jumper late in regulation and an array of circus shots around the basket – and continued to outperform basically every expectation, all while playing with a bum hip. Since Walton’s injury, Albrecht is averaging 39 minutes, 13 points and five assists per game.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: The only shots that Abdur-Rahkman made were difficult late shot clock threes. He missed his other seven shots and has just 6 points, 1 assist and a turnover. He looked a bit wild overall today and threw up some pretty hopeful shots around the basket.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle was outclassed by Alex Olah on the low block, finishing with more fouls (3) than points (1) with five rebounds and a turnover on the night. I think Olah is probably the sort of player that Doyle can become later in his career, but this game was a stern reminder of how far he has to go.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt did some good things offensively early, but struggled against Olah’s size inside. He finished with 4 points on 2 of 4 shooting.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman had one of his more vintage first half spells, checking into the game and recording a nice block only to throw a wild one-handed pass out of bounds on the ensuing secondary break.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal played six minutes off the bench and finished a nice pick-and-roll pass from Zak Irvin.