New York — In the early part of the schedule, Michigan already is going through its growing pains, with two freshmen learning their way in the starting lineup.
Their Big Three of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. has been carrying the load, along with Spike Albrecht.
No. 19 UM made a big stride that could pay dividends later in the season, overcoming a 13-point, second-half deficit but falling to No. 12 Villanova, 60-55, in the championship game of the Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
LeVert had 16 points and six rebounds, Irvin added 11 points and Walton 10 points and five rebounds for the Wolverines (4-1), who led by five with less than six minutes left.
Villanova (5-0) trailed, 55-54, when senior JayVaughn Pinkston (eight points, nine rebounds) made a basket with 13.4 seconds left to give the Wildcats a one-point lead. On the ensuing possession Pinkston got a key block on a potential go-ahead shot attempt by Irvin with five seconds left and Villanova got the rebound.
"Coach always preaches to me about defense," said Pinkston, a Brooklyn native. "He tells me that scoring will come — just focus on defense and rebounding. That's what I did tonight and it helped my team."
Ryan Arcidiacono made four free throws in the last four seconds for the final margin.
Michigan struggled in the first 20 minutes, shooting 30 percent (8-of-27) and didn't score in the final 7:11 and Villanova ended with a 9-0 run, for a 27-20 lead.
The Wildcats scored the first six points of the second half to jump to a 33-20 lead with 17:49 left. UM's scoreless drought reached nearly 10 minutes between baskets, when Irvin's jumper ended the streak.
Detroit News reporter Rod Beard talks about what went wrong in Michigan's loss to Villanova, its first of the season, on Tuesday night.
"When it was 33-20 and at the end of the first half, I sensed at that time we had doubts whether we could win the game," UM coach John Beilein said. "I'm really proud of how their spirit changed; they made a couple shots and all of a sudden, we became a different team.
"It bodes well for the future that we could get off the bottom a little bit. We hadn't been down in games, to be down like that and be able to come back."
Irvin's basket sparked a quick 7-0 spurt, with a floater from LeVert and a 3-pointer by Walton. That turned into a 27-8 run over the next 10 minutes that put Michigan ahead, 47-41, with 8:05 left. Irvin had eight points, including a drive and dunk and Albrecht added a triple that put UM up, 39-38, its first lead since midway through the first half.
"That's one of the things coach Beilein echoed in the locker room. You never want to learn from a loss but there's definitely a lot to learn," said Albrecht, who finished with three points and three rebounds. "We did do some good things out there."
UM took its largest lead, 51-43, on a step-back jumper from LeVert and a jumper by Walton but Villanova worked its way back, with a 3-pointer by Ryan Arcidiacono to cut it to 51-46.
Dylan Ennis (15 points) tied it at 51 with a 3-pointer with 2:31 left and Josh Hart's free throw gave the Wildcats a 52-51 advantage, but LeVert answered with another fade-away to give the Wolverines the lead.
LeVert had another basket with 50.7 seconds remaining for a 55-54 lead before Pinkston's late basket before the decisive run.
"I really could not be happier. We made a lot of mistakes, and we can get a lot better, but we still toughed it out and found a way to get the win," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "JayVaughn had nine rebounds and came up with a blocked shot to win the game, as opposed to trying to score to win the game — that's what this win was about."
Michigan shot 52 percent in the second half but the slow start in the first half and not getting some key stops in the final minutes were the undoing.
"Villanova's defense is at a high level and they're changing up things. To be able to play and have chances to win that game, we'll learn a lot from it," Beilein said. "The atmosphere was like an NCAA Tournament atmosphere and here we are, at November 25."