Bloomington, Ind. — After Michigan's disappointing loss to No. 3 Indiana on Saturday, Trey Burke sat distraught and answered questions about his team's second defeat of the season.
It was the familiar refrain about the Wolverines digging into a double-digit deficit and having to climb out. Much like its other loss of the season, at Ohio State, U-M had to fight an uphill climb and just came up short in its 81-73 loss at Assembly Hall.
"That's just something we're continuing to get better at and we're just trying to continue to learn from a team going on certain runs and responding to them at a poised pace," Burke said. "On the road against a team like Indiana, you have to stay poised when they go on certain runs."
U-M trailed by 21 at Ohio State and fell behind by 15 at Indiana on Saturday. Though the Hoosiers seemed unable to miss in the opening five minutes, they threw the first punch — and the second.
If Michigan (20-2, 7-2 Big Ten) is going to remain an elite-level team, it will have to figure out a way to click on all cylinders on the biggest stages.
The sky isn't falling for the Wolverines, who are just a game behind Indiana for first place in the conference standings.
But just as they did against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament last year and against Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, they didn't match the intensity to start the game. Indiana, buoyed by ESPN's GameDay production all day on Saturday, was primed to go for the No. 1 vs. No. 3 matchup.
Not much lost — yet
"Sometimes in these situations, when there is so much attention and hoopla and hype surrounding a game, it can't live up to it — and this one did, I think," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "We knew Michigan was really good but after being on the court with them for a couple of hours, they're even better than I thought as a coach and I think we've watched as much film as we could over the last couple of weeks."
The Wolverines likely still will be ranked in the top five when the rankings are released on Monday, but they will have to find a second gear if they are going to make it through the next stretch of games, which include another matchup Tuesday against Ohio State, followed by road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State.
How Michigan bounces back from Saturday's loss may chart the course for the rest of the season. Beilein is mindful to keep things positive in trying to assess their performance against the Hoosiers.
"That's all we're going to be talking about — they're going to be yes faces from the coaches tomorrow in the locker room. It doesn't get any easier," Beilein said. "We can't be patting each other on the back and moral victories. We're very disappointed but we can't dwell on it — we can't let them (mentally) beat us twice."
In both losses, some of Michigan's freshmen have played tentatively. Glenn Robinson III, who averages 12.1 points, was held to two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Nik Stauskas, (12.6 points), had 10 on 3-of-10 shooting.
In the Ohio State game, Stauskas was held scoreless and Robinson had just eight points.
Indiana seemed willing to let Trey Burke (25 points) and Tim Hardaway (18 points) beat them, but not anyone else.
"It's just all part of it. We have to continue to try to have both the coaching staff and guard play continue to recognize what people are doing and how we can get Glenn even more involved," Beilein said. "They have a good defensive team but they have a couple of guys that really in one-on-one matchups are exceptional."
Indiana's Victor Oladipo, regarded as one of the top defenders in the country, switched off on Burke, Hardaway and Robinson, minimizing their effectiveness — just as Ohio State's Aaron Craft did on Burke — and made Michigan try to find a different option.
Beilein might have found part of that answer in freshman Mitch McGary, who had 10 points and seven rebounds and played good defense on Cody Zeller. The pieces are still developing — and many of them are freshmen — but the next three games will tell whether Michigan is a pretender or contender in the Big Ten race.
If they're contenders, the Wolverines will have to have more answers in big games than they did Saturday.