Entering the Big Ten tournament, it had been eight games since Michigan won consecutive contests. Since beating Penn State and Purdue back-to-back in early February, the Wolverines just couldn’t seem to string together two good games. In their Big Ten tournament opener against Indiana, they couldn’t string together two good halves.
Michigan got out early against the Hoosiers. Led by Hunter Dickinson and Dante Jones, who combined for 25 first half points, the Wolverines led the majority of the first half. Jones continued his strong play of late, scoring 12 first half points without committing a turnover. Dickinson was dominant inside, scoring 13 first half points on 6-9 shooting. The Wolverines also played a very good defensive half, limiting Indiana to 38% shooting. The Hoosiers had some uncharacteristic misses inside, but Michigan largely limited open looks.
Michigan took a 13-point lead into the locker room and pushed the lead to 17 just inside the 13-minute mark of the second half. It looked to be a stress-free afternoon for Juwan Howard and his Wolverines. Instead of rolling over, however, Indiana roared back. Led by Trayce Jackson-Davis and Xavier Johnson, who scored 19 and nine second half points respectively, the Hoosiers went on an almost unfathomable 28-4 run. In less than 11 minutes of game action, the Hoosiers turned a 17-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said that he got after his players at halftime. “It wasn’t pretty, I’ll tell you that,” Woodson said. The Hoosiers, particularly Jackson-Davis, responded, playing one of their best halves of the season. “This is probably the biggest win for our program in a long, long time,” Woodson said after the game.
Credit Indiana for not quitting and for raising the level of its play. But as well as Indiana played, Michigan played as poorly. During Indiana’s 11-minute run in the second half, Michigan missed 13 consecutive field goal attempts and turned the ball over six times. For the half, the Wolverines shot a woeful 8-26 from the field and committed ten turnovers.
You won’t win many games when you commit more turnovers than you have made field goals. Nor will you win many games shooting 31% from the floor, something Michigan did in the second half. But to simply say that Michigan went cold doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s not as if Michigan missed a lot of open looks or good shots. Michigan stopped … doing much of anything. That included looking for its bag man on one end of the floor (Dickinson had just three shot attempts in the second half) and playing defense on the other end. After struggling in the first half, Indiana connected on 56% of its shots in the second half, many of which came inside the paint.
Michigan actually had a chance to tie or take the lead in the game’s final seconds, but emblematic of Michigan’s half, the Wolverines committed yet another unforced error and turned the ball over, effectively ending the game. A few free throws later, and Indiana had an improbable, but well-earned 74-69 victory.
So what’s next for Michigan? The Wolverines have more-than-likely done enough to punch their ticket to the big dance, but they certainly didn’t help their eventual seeding - and may have even played themselves into a play-in game. But maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world for Howard and his Wolverines. Maybe an additional game is just what Michigan needs to exorcise the demons from Thursday’s collapse.