Falling into first-half holes has become a troubling trend for Michigan in recent weeks.
This time, though, the No. 23 Wolverines finally dug one that they couldn’t climb out of.
A sloppy start coupled with a lifeless effort at both ends of the floor led to a 72-52 blowout loss to Nebraska Thursday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Charles Matthews scored 15 with 6-for-10 shooting but received little help for Michigan (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten), which was playing its third game in six days and was handed its most lopsided loss since a 24-point defeat to SMU on Dec. 8, 2015.
James Palmer Jr. scored 19, Isaiah Roby 14, Isaac Copeland 13, and Anton Gill 10 for Nebraska (14-7, 5-3), which shot 55.3 percent (26-for-47) from the field and played with an energy Michigan simply couldn’t match.
The Wolverines entered the game 8-0 against the Cornhuskers since they joined the Big Ten in 2011, and had won 10 straight in the series. Nebraska snapped the skid and earned its first victory over Michigan since Dec. 12, 1964.
After a miserable first half during which Michigan was never able to establish any semblance of a rhythm, it only continued to get worse over the final 20 minutes. The Wolverines couldn't come up with any answers against Nebraska's defense and the Cornhuskers used an 18-4 second-half run to extend their lead to 49-31 with 11:59 to play.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored Michigan’s lone points during the stretch with a free throw and a 3-pointer, which ended a five-minute field-goal drought, but was sandwiched around a pair of deep balls by Gill that made it an 18-point game.
All Michigan could muster was an 8-2 spurt on a free throw and layup from Abdur-Rahkman and a jumper and fast-break dunk from Jordan Poole to cut it to 51-39 with 8:38 left.
That’s as close as it would get as Palmer scored five straight with two free throws and a 3-pointer to spark a 12-3 flurry that put the game out of reach, 63-42, and prompted Michigan coach John Beilein to pull his starters with 4:57 remaining.
It was a frustrating finish for the Wolverines, who got off to a dismal start and committed nine turnovers in the first half due to careless mistakes and Nebraska's active hands. The Cornhuskers took advantage of the miscues and used an 18-4 run over a nine-minute span to take a 28-16 lead with 4:13 left in the opening frame.
After Matthews scored on a driving layup at the 11:10 mark, Michigan missed its next eight shots and endured a six-minute scoring drought before Matthews made two free throws to cut the deficit to 24-16.
Even worse, Michigan went over seven minutes between made field goals before Zavier Simpson knocked down a 3-pointer at the 3:43 mark. The Wolverines closed the half by missing 14 of their final 16 shots and trailed 32-21 at the break. It was the fifth straight game Michigan was down at halftime.
Michigan shot 32 percent (8-for-25) from the field in the first half and 37.5 percent (21-for-56) for the game.
Here are some other observations from Thursday’s loss:
♦After scoring 27 points against Michigan State and 18 against Maryland, junior center Moritz Wagner was a non-factor throughout the contest. Much like the Purdue game, Nebraska switched every ball screen with Wagner and Michigan struggled to find a response. He attempted just one shot in the first half and finished with a season-low two points on 1-for-5 shooting in 32 minutes. It was Wagner’s least productive outing in 52 games since he finished with two points at South Carolina last season.
♦For the second straight game, Beilein used a lineup with Abdur-Rahkman at point guard and Poole at the two. The reason was likely two-fold as Beilein was looking for a way to spark the offense and to get Poole, a freshman, more playing time. Poole finished with five points (2-for-6 shooting) in 16 minutes.
♦Nebraska entered the game ranked fourth in the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage defense at 31.9 percent and didn't give Michigan many open looks. The Wolverines shot a season-low 22.2 percent (4-for-18) from beyond the arc, and Duncan Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman, Wagner, Matthews and Poole were a combined 1-for-12. Freshman Isaiah Livers (2-for-4) was the only player to make more than one 3-pointer.
♦The Wolverines struggled to finish around the rim the past two games against Michigan State and Maryland. But against Nebraska, that was Michigan’s best success on offense as it finished with 34 points in the paint and 10 of its 21 made fields goals on layups and dunks.
♦Michigan entered the game averaging 9.8 turnovers per game, the sixth-fewest in the nation. The Wolverines had nine in the first half and 12 total, which led to 11 Nebraska points.