It was a game that featured the nation’s top two defensive teams, and that’s exactly how it played out early. Seven minutes into the game, the score was four to four. Ten minutes in, it was six to six. With Texas Tech’s swarming “No Middle” defense and Michigan’s straight up, press, man-to-man, it was not a game for the faint of heart, and open looks few and far between. But when there were open looks, Texas Tech made good on them and Michigan didn’t. And that was the story of the game.
Michigan, prone to rough shooting nights, had perhaps its worst of the season against the Red Raiders. How bad was it? The Wolverines were held to just seven field goals in the first half – and missed all nine of the three-point shots they attempted. And it didn’t get much better in the second half. For the game, Michigan missed its first 18 three-point attempts. Yes, you read that right. 0-18. The only three-pointer to fall all night occurred in garbage time, with less than a minute to play. Way too little, far too late.
After a tough but competitive first half, Michigan went into the locker room trailing by eight, 24-16. Despite a full half to play, you got the feeling that an eight-point lead was close to insurmountable in a game like this. When Texas Tech opened the second half with a 12-2 run, the game was over. In fact, with Texas Tech up 36-18, the question wasn’t as much, “Could Wolverines could make up an 18-point deficit?” as, “Could the Wolverines score 18 points the rest of the way?” They did. Barely.
Michigan continued to fight, but the more they pressed, the more they lost their poise and the more the floor opened up for the Red Raiders. When the lead ballooned to 25 points, the game couldn’t end fast enough for the Wolverines or their stunned fans.
It was a sad and sudden end to the season for a Michigan team that had designs on repeating its Final Four run of a year ago. The painful ending, however, shouldn’t take away from what Michigan accomplished this year.
It’s largely forgotten, particularly in light of Michigan’s fast start, but this was supposed to be a rebuilding season in Ann Arbor. Michigan lost an incredible amount of production – along with leadership and experience – from last year’s Final Four team. When Michigan said goodbye to Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, it also said goodbye to 37 points and 88 minutes a game.
But led by Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Year Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan surpassed most pre-season expectations, winning 30 games, finishing a game off the pace in the Big Ten and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
In the end, Michigan advanced to the round of 16 but fell short of the round of eight, and that seems about right. For the majority of the season, Michigan seemed like a top 10-12 team, and that’s where the Wolverines ended up.
Beilein said that the message in the post-game locker room was, “This game shouldn’t define who we are,” and he’s right. Michigan not only had a successful season, reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive season, but is also well positioned for success in the future.
Michigan returns the core of its team next season. With only senior Charles Matthews expected to depart, Simpson, Teske, Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers all likely return to lead the Wolverines, and if freshmen Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns and David DeJulius are able to contribute, the future looks bright for Michigan.
Not that that provided much solace Thursday night.