hoops game recaps
Derrick Walton, who called a players-only meeting last night, led M's late charge to close out a much-needed win. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
If Michigan's players think John Beilein is the problem, they aren't showing it. Last night, in preparation for today's must-win game against Nebraska, Derrick Walton called a players-only meeting at the team hotel.
"The coaches don't need to say so much," said Walton. "We talked about this last night as a team at the players meeting last night. They make the calls. They make the adjustments. They make the subs. It's on us to make the plays out there."
"As Coach [Beilein] says, there's a point where he can only say so much. It's up to us to make plays and get stops."
The defense may have remained abominable, but with the offense hitting on all cylinders and the team's two seniors coming up big down the stretch, Michigan made just enough plays and got just enough stops to get their second Big Ten win.
Both teams showed little ability to stop the other. Moe Wagner exploited Nebraska's nonexistent pick-and-pop defense to score a career-high 23 points, making four-of-six three-point attempts. When the Huskers finally adjusted to the pick-and-pop, Derrick Walton took over, hitting three second-half three-pointers from virtually the same spot on the floor before icing the game on the line on his way to 20 points. On the other end, Michigan had no answer for Tai Webster, who scored a game-high 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting, operating off the high screen.
Defense: optional. [Campredon]
While the Wolverines never trailed, it was a tight game throughout. Michigan's lone double-digit lead, after a Wagner triple early in the second half, lasted all of one possession. Each time they threatened to blow the game open, Nebraska hit back, usually with a drive from Webster. After a quiet first half, Husker guard Glynn Watson Jr. kept them within striking distance late, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half. With his best half of play since the SMU game, however, Walton—with some help from fellow senior Zak Irvin, who made all seven of his second-half free throws—kept the Huskers at bay.
"That consistency is what we're both trying to get for [Walton]," said Beilein. "That's what he's capable of."
DJ Wilson was the fourth Wolverine in double-figures, needing only seven shots to get his 11 points, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench to hit a couple critical shots. As usual, Michigan took excellent care of the ball, and they forced some timely turnovers that proved to be the difference.
"Going forward, I think, a meeting like that, where you see guys so passionate about wanting to win—[we] really did it justice tonight," said Walton.
"There's only so many games left."
Maryland outmuscled Michigan in the first half. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan struggled to get started against a good defensive team. On the other end of the floor, they made a mediocre offense look excellent.
Unlike Wednesday night's game against Penn State, Michigan didn't have it in them to finish off a comeback effort against Maryland. The Wolverines fell behind by as many as 11 in a first half marked by pathetic post defense and wayward outside shooting. Maryland center Damonte Dodd, filling in for injured starter Michal Cekovsky, scored 11 of his career-high 15 points in the opening half. Michigan's post players didn't fare much better on the perimeter—and, in this case, didn't get much help, either:
Melo is a great player, but this is the epitome of terrible defense. pic.twitter.com/aOwvLnKkcu
— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) January 7, 2017
Michigan connected on just 3-of-11 three-pointers, meanwhile. A nine-point halftime deficit would've been larger if not for a strong closing effort by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who scored three buckets—all in the paint—over the final five minutes and change. He'd finish with 12 points and four steal in the best game he's had in a while.
After being limited by foul trouble in the first half, Moe Wagner had a stellar offensive showing, pouring in 15 of his 17 poitns in the second stanza; he took Maryland defenders off the dribble by alternating his spin and behind-the-back moves, hit pick-and-pop threes, and worked through contact. While Wagner had gained Michigan an edge in the paint, however, they lost it on the other end with shoddy perimeter defense; the Terps went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc—several of them open looks off of dribble penetration.
The Wolverines were able to get within two points on three different occasions only for Maryland to respond. On Wednesday, Michigan won a game they should've lost. Today, they lost a game they should've lost. There are signs of promise—today, from Wagner, MAAR, and Xavier Simpson—but this team so rarely puts it all together that it's becoming harder and harder to hold out hope for a strong run through Big Ten play.
Walton's play in transition late sparked M's comeback. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
It wasn't impressive, or encouraging, or—at least for the first 30 minutes or so—fun, but Michigan pulled their proverbial asses out of the fire with a strong finish against Penn State, closing the game with a 30-15 run to erase a 14-point deficit and steal much-needed conference win.
"Their seniors made plays at the end," said PSU coach Pat Chambers.
"They got the stops when they needed," he added. "That's what senior-led teams do."
"Our seniors, who were not on their 'A' game, were nothing short of spectacular in the last four minutes," John Beilein concurred.
You, Michigan fan, may have cocked an eyebrow at those statements. For tonight, at least, they held true. While they struggled for most of the game, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton both came up big down the stretch. Walton nailed a three to pull Michigan within one, then fed DJ Wilson on a fast break for the go-ahead alley-oop. When PSU's Lamar Stevens grabbed the lead back with a jumper, Irvin answered with his pet midrange shot. Walton extended the lead at the free-throw line, Irvin drilled a tough stepback shot, and the two combined to ice the game at the line, going 6/6 in the waning moments to fend off PSU's comeback effort.
|The game proved frustrating at times for both coaches. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]|
The Wolverines didn't open the game nearly as well as they closed it, of course. This was a boring slog for a half-hour of game time. Penn State got into the paint time and again, while Michigan couldn't do the same or hit their outside shots, going 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half.
"They drove us wherever they wanted to in the first half," said John Beilein. "And we let them."
The second stanza began much the same way; PSU's first two buckets came in the paint before three straight triples extended the lead to 14. The turning point, according to Beilein, came during an emotional huddle at the under-12 media timeout.
"I didn't have to say anything," Beilein said. "It was all, the circle that I was in, they were all extremely charged up and upset at each other. And I'm not meaning pointing fingers [at each other], they were very encouraging, and very strong words that, no, we're not losing this game. We're not starting off in the league 0 and 2. We're going to make this happen."
Duncan Robinson entered the game shortly after that timeout and proceeded to account for a five-point run of his own with two shots to cut the deficit to eight. The Wolverines steadily chipped away at the lead from there, benefiting from some PSU turnovers to get out in transition for easy points. Then the seniors closed it out.
The season can take two forms from here. Michigan can carry the emotion from that huddle over to the rest of the Big Ten schedule and fight their way into the tournament, or they can play the listless brand of basketball we saw for much of this game and settle for an NIT bid. Only time will tell.
Look past the final result and you can see this year's Michigan squad taking shape. Derrick Walton is more off-guard than point guard. Zak Irvin, filling the void, is a point-forward. Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson are the team's two best players. Duncan Robinson's offense has moved him past Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in everything but the starting lineup.
Wilson starred for much of this game, the best of his career thus far. In 44 minutes, he scored 28 points, made 7/10 twos and 4/8 threes, grabbed 14 rebounds (six offensive), dished out six assists to only one turnover, and added a block for good measure. Wagner also looked excellent, scoring 12 points on ten shots while playing disruptive defense that resulted in a block and three steals. This was a glimpse into a pretty exciting future:
Those two will eventually be the go-to players on this team. This afternoon, however, their relative inexperience in those roles showed in overtime. Wagner missed a corner three on Michigan's first overtime possession when it appeared he had an open lane to roll to the basket instead of popping out the perimeter. Wilson badly missed his two three-point attempts in the extra session, including a rushed shot with plenty of time left on M's final possession that bonked off the backboard; while M corralled the rebound, Zak Irvin lost the ball on his game-tying attempt and Wagner's desperate volley from two-point range had no effect on the outcome.
While Michigan had the advantage up front, Iowa's backcourt, especially Peter Jok, held a similar edge. Jok poured in 25 points. Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon outplayed Walton, posting 17 points and six assists with no turnovers and a couple huge shots late in the game. Irvin distributed the ball well in the first half when his shot wasn't falling, then committed a few costly turnovers in the second half and overtime when he finally regained his scoring touch. With Robinson only going 3/9 from beyond the arc and MAAR disappearing entirely, Michigan needed more efficiency from their senior guards.
They didn't quite get enough. Michigan starts 0-1 in Big Ten play, and while they have four very winnable games ahead of them on the schedule, they missed a great chance to tally a rare conference road win this afternoon.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 23, 2016
Derrick Walton's game-sealing three came after Michigan had missed their previous 12 attempts from beyond the arc. Michigan's narrow win over Furman was a 60-possession slog that was hard to watch outside of the two highlights above.
Moe Wagner (18 points on 16 FGA, five offensive boards) and Zak Irvin (16 points on 14 FGA, seven assists) were just effective enough on offense for this game to remain tight throughout even though the Wolverines couldn't buy a long-range jumper. It'd be easy to pin a game this ugly on the dead winter-break atmosphere and players looking ahead to the holidays; this was more Michigan missing a bunch of open looks in a painfully slow-paced game.
The Wolverines now get a significant break before their Big Ten season tips off at Iowa on January 1st. After tonight's game, we could all use some time off from basketball.
fair enough, Lonzo Ball
Michigan made 12 first-half three-pointers, only five short of the school record for an entire game. The Wolverines rebounded four of their ten missed shots in the half. They held a turbo-charged UCLA squad to two fast-break points.
Lonzo Ball pulled up from just inside the midcourt logo and tied the game at 50 as the half expired. Michigan had played a best-case scenario half and the Bruins matched them shot for shot. UCLA made ten threes themselves in the opening stanza. Only one team was equipped to sustain such a pace.
TJ Leaf, the former Michigan recruit, gave the Bruins the lead on the first possession of the second half, and they never lost it. This spectacular sequence from Ball and center Ike Onigbonu, who filled in more than capably for injured starter Thomas Welsh, stretched the lead to eight:
Alford and Leaf would push it to double digits with back-to-back buckets. Michigan made a couple mini-runs to get as close as five but they never had a shot to tie the game over the last 17:58. As the Wolverines offense sputtered, UCLA's continued to roar; the Bruins connected on 20-for-29 from the field in the second half while Michigan only went 10-for-29.
An impressive performance by Zak Irvin—who had 18 points, five rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and only one turnover—went for naught. Derrick Walton had another quiet performance, going 2-for-7 from the field for nine points with two assists and two turnovers, and if Michigan hoped to keep pace, they needed both their senior leaders to be lights-out tonight. One was, one wasn't. That isn't exactly a surprise to anyone who's followed their careers.
Michigan wasn't good enough to beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. That they hung with them for a half was impressive in and of itself, even if the second half left a feeling of demoralization. The Wolverines aren't an elite team this year; we knew that. The Bruins may be one; they've certainly looked the part. If Beilein's squad can keep up their early-season defense—judging that based on tonight is harsh, to say the least—and sprinkle in a little more of tonight's first-half shooting, they just might be a pretty good team themselves. Getting good performances from both their seniors at once would help; thus far, those games have been few and far between.