Bitter losses serving as learning tool for UM
College Park, Md.— For much of his coaching career at West Virginia, John Beilein's teams were known for playing the 1-3-1 defense. Beilein has dialed back on using it at Michigan, as he's gotten more athletic players and is comfortable with man-to-man defenses.
This season has been different for Beilein, because of injuries and early departures to the NBA draft, causing him to play more zone defense than he's become accustomed to in his previous seven seasons.
During a couple stretches in the first half, UM had three freshmen and two walk-ons — Andrew Dakich, Sean Lonergan, Kam Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle or Mark Donnal — on the floor. No. 14 Maryland had an athletic group on the floor and Michigan simply had to hold out in the final minutes of the first half, with a one-point lead.
Maryland finished the half on a 12-0 run and took a 66-56 win on Saturday.
"You're going to have those negative runs sometimes, especially when you're playing good teams," Beilein said. "That was the big difference in the game. We were trying to put a good team together and I believe in all my guys and they're going to do their best."
In the second half, the Terrapins (24-5, 12-4 Big Ten) had an answer for each of Michigan's runs, buoyed by freshman Melo Trimble, who hit a big 3-pointer after Spike Albrecht had cut the lead to three with under nine minutes left.
"I'm proud we continued to answer but as we learn to be a better team, it's not just about shot-making. But can you be a better defensive team?" Beilein said. "Our guys had some problems guarding their athletes and their skill level today."
Trimble finished with 19 points, five assists and four rebounds and Maryland's 3-point shooters challenged Michigan on the perimeter, hitting 11 of 22 on 3-pointers in the game.
With Derrick Walton Jr. still recovering from a foot injury and Caris LeVert out for the season, the Wolverines are forced to use more of their bench — and hope that it pays off with experience in the close losses.
"It's extremely frustrating coming out here and losing close games like that. I'm really proud of this team and the way we're battling out there," Albrecht said. "I don't think anyone thinks we're quitting. We're playing extremely hard but at the end of the day, that doesn't get you results — you have to go out there and win games."
Walton continues to try to work his way back from the foot injury to be able to play before the end of the season. Beilein said Friday that Walton had been doing light workouts and traveled with the team to Maryland, but after participating in warm-ups, he didn't get in the game.
"He practiced a little bit yesterday and then he told me today he was feeling a little bit better," Beilein said. "He went through warm-ups, but we had no plan on playing him."
Walton has missed the last eight games because of the foot injury. With only two games left — Tuesday at Northwestern and next Saturday against Rutgers — along with the Big Ten Tournament, it's unclear whether he'll return this season.
"As soon as we feel he's ready — and he's got to have two days of really good practice — because something else would be injured if he goes out there and he's not ready," Beilein said. "Tuesday would be tough for him to be ready by then, but we're going to give everything a shot."
Albrecht continues to play through a hip injury, which he says he'll get addressed in the offseason. He's scored in double figures in the last seven games — easily the best stretch in his career.
But after logging 37 minutes against Maryland, he's still grinding out the last games of the season before he can have surgery.
"That'll be a problem for a while. It's no big deal," he said. "I'm feeling a lot better — it's probably the best I've been feeling all season. That's the good news."
Although he's played through some of the pain and has been one of UM's best players since the injuries to LeVert and Walton, he revealed that he has had some aggressive treatment to try to help the pain.
"I did get a cortisone injection when I went home for winter break, which helped a lot," he said. "I'm not trying to get a ton of those. Just get through the season and I can manage it."