Everyone in the building was likely thinking the same thing.

How was Michigan, only one week after a crushing loss against Virginia Tech, going to blow another game? And, especially, how was it going to happen against a Texas team that couldn’t stop shooting itself in the foot?

As the Longhorns turned the ball over again and again, it seemed the Wolverines were equally determined to give Texas every chance to walk out of Crisler Center with a win.

An early 10-point lead was erased after Michigan’s careless play to end the half gave Texas forward Tevin Mack space to shoot. Then, the Wolverine offense went cold in the second half. There were four stretches of three minutes or more where they went without a single point. It was ugly, even cringe-worthy, basketball — the type that will be broken down and analyzed in film session as an example of what not to do.

A loss Tuesday night would’ve erased the last of the goodwill the Wolverines had built up earlier in the season with dominating victories over Marquette and Southern Methodist. And with the way this team has wilted late in games in the past — some might remember how last year’s season ended when Michigan couldn’t hold onto a lead against Notre Dame in March — many in the crowd were probably expecting more of the same.

After all, despite John Beilein stressing that he needed better play from his team at the end of each half, Michigan allowed Texas to go on a 12-5 run to end the first half and claw itself back into the game. The message, it appeared, had yet to get through to his team.

Fast forward to the endgame, and all of a sudden, Michigan was staring at a 2-point deficit with 1:56 left. The Wolverines had managed to retake the lead and tie the game multiple times, only to allow the Longhorns to do the same.

So what was it going to be? More of the same, or something new?

Michigan, behind as clutch a late game performance as you’ll see from Moritz Wagner, chose the latter.

The sophomore forward started off by splitting a one-and-one. Then, with just 16 seconds left and his team still down by one, he swooped in behind Zak Irvin’s missed layup, plucked the ball out of the air and laid it gently off the backboard and into the net to give his team the lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.

But his most impressive play down the stretch came on the other end of the floor. Texas got the look it wanted, forcing a switch from Michigan so that DJ Wilson was guarding Eric Davis Jr. as he received the ball off an inbounds play.

Davis thought he was open. Wilson scrambled to get in position as Davis drove into the lane. And then Wagner left his man to help. He blocked off Davis’s path into the paint, and when the Texas guard threw up a shot in desperation, Wagner was there to swat it into the hands of his teammate .

It was unexpected that the game-clinching defensive play came from Wagner, whose defense has been just about the only thing his coach has criticized early in the season. While Wagner has developed into a dangerous option on offense, his defense has lagged behind, with a slew of mental mistakes and foul trouble following him throughout almost every game.

He was much improved, though, against the Longhorns, so much so that Shaka Smart commended his post defense after the game and called him the “best player on the floor.”

Maybe that’s a sign that this team still has room to grow, still has potential to reach. The emergence of Wagner and Wilson would appear to be proof of that. Behind the play of those two, Michigan survived uncharacteristically poor performances from Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.

Beilein certainly recognized what his team had done down the stretch.

“So you haven’t seen us win many games like that,” Beilein said. “ … Our defense was gritty, it was tough in the last two minutes, it was everything it wasn’t against Virginia Tech in the last two or three minutes … our kids just sat down and guarded. Nobody could make a shot — it wasn’t a pretty offensive game. But we got done what we had to get done.”

Texas is no powerhouse team, having lost three straight games by nine or more points to Northwestern, Colorado and UT-Arlington, and Michigan’s clutch play at the end doesn’t erase all the bad play from the rest of the game. Even Beilein himself thinks his team is “just okay” and “not that good yet.”

But with last week’s collapse against the Hokies still fresh, the win over Texas is a small step in the right direction.

  • Champswest

    “just okay” and “not that good yet.” That is probably a good evaluation of the team at this point. We have 4 rotation players who are what they are, 1 who can still improve and 2 who are improving weekly. The team as a functioning unit can still improve at both ends of the court.

  • Jeff

    Seems like the team is starting to realize Wagner is the best player on the court. If we continue to play through him and use Irvin an Walton as role players, we can be really good. We’ll likely continue to see more hero ball from Irvin and it’ll cost us 3 games for every 1 he wins.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      I agree, I would love to see a balance offence attack oppose to Irvin being our go-to-guy. He is very predictable streaky shooter. I would take fewer FGA from him and give them to our bigs any day of the week

      • bobohle

        Especially when that creates FT opportunities.

  • JVS

    Did they flip it? or did they survive it? Lead still surrendered, Zak still took/missed a last shot. I think all they did was show that the ZI/DW usage allocation needs to change permanently regardless of seniority.

    • GDW

      Bashing Irvin has to stop. Is he streaky? Yes, but he has lead UM in points scored in most of our games. Even in a loss to V Tech he scored 20+ points. If anything this was exactly what the Wolverines needed. They don’t have to lean on Zak every game for points. I’m more concerned about MAAR. He needs to get his confidence back because he’s obviously the best at getting to the rim.

      • tgio24

        When you are hoisting up bad shots and questionable pull up jumpers all game you will probably lead the team in scoring on some nights. He is a senior and was expected to lead this team in many ways. “Bashing” or being frustrated with him has definitely been warranted.

        • GDW

          He leads the team in points, 2nd in rebounds, 2nd in assists, his FG% is 43% and his FT% is 81%. I agree that his shot selection needs to be better but he has not been near as bad a ppl are saying. He is not my favorite player but this team needs a little more time to gel and Irvin will be a big part of that. Don’t be so quick to write a player off. Just about everyone did that to DJ and look at him now.

          • bobohle

            Yeah go back to the late summer posts. It’s almost like the 3 pt shot where the coach says NO! NO! thenYEEEEEEES! when the ball goes thru the net. LOL. Remember these are still kids.

          • Chris De Sana

            You act as if the verdict is in on Wilson, has he shown signs of improvement but is that not to be expected by a Jr? Especially one that came in so raw? I mean lets be honest previous to this year he was a combo of a deer on ice and in the head lights.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      I agree with you, much more with Irvin shot selection, I would take couple FGA from Irvin and give them to our bigs any day of the week whether they score or not…too predictable, sometimes his gliding jump shot off a screen irritates me lol especially with his unorthodox release….I am not sure if Walton has taken a step back but I did remember him creating off the dribble and being much more effective in past seasons

    • bobohle

      JB still loves Seniors.

      • Barth Applefeld

        Irvin and Walton are very good players, but is hard to explain their inconsistency. Probably it has to do with the changing offensive scheme and emphasis on defense, and Irvin the designated shooter at the end of the shot clock, which is asking too much too often but MAAR has not had a great year so far.

        • Chris De Sana

          Very Good? That is a bit of a stretch…..

          • Barth Applefeld

            I’m both a homer and a young person fanatic, but I think if they could eliminate the inconsistent games and halves, they would be very good. Of course I understand that is the problem

    • mikey_mac

      Let’s at least give Irvin credit for making a play this time that gave his team a 50%+ chance, not a fallaway long two. This was a tough UT defense that the team really struggled with solving — getting a shot at the rim that drew help defenders was arguably not hero ball at all. The script change may not entirely be of UM’s volition, but it’s too cynical to say UM just wandered into a win with no signs of improvement.

      • Yeah… Not a lot of talk about this, but in the exact same spot as last week.. Irvin drove to the rim instead of settling for a mid-range two.