Paradise Island, Bahamas — John Beilein stood with his arms crossed on the sideline. The Michigan head coach had already signaled for a timeout by the time Sam Cassell Jr.’s wide-open transition layup had gone in.
An Aubrey Dawkins 3-pointer — one of very few long-range shots for Michigan — had just cut the sizable Connecticut lead to 14. And only seconds later, poor defense by Michigan allowed the Huskies to extend it again.
“When he made that 3,” Beilein said, “anytime that we made a 3 in that second half, it was like, we need to make a few more.”
Poor shooting and a too-little, too-late comeback from Michigan was the story of its 74-60 loss to UConn on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis at the Imperial Arena. Zak Irvin shot 1-of-10 from the field. Dawkins made just 3-of-10. The rest of the team aside from Caris LeVert (7-of-12) shot a combined 11-of-44.
Michigan got out to a 12-5 lead on the back of four early offensive rebounds, but had been outrebounded 42-31 when the final buzzer sounded on the loss.
“We're playing really good teams right now,” Beilein said. “And we're not a very good team right now.”
LeVert got called for a touch foul — his second — just eight minutes into the game and Beilein stuck to his precedent and took his star player out of the game, nursing a four-point lead. Within a minute, both Shonn Miller and Rodney Purvis had gotten to the basket for Connecticut, only the start of a 31-10 run to end the first half.
Sterling Gibbs’ long pull-up 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half extended the lead to 36-22, the largest the ever-growing lead had been.
“We were rushing a little bit, but then we started trusting each other,” Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We started having that blind trust on the offensive and defensive end.”
Michigan was down by 16 when Duncan Robinson missed a fadeaway jumper, going off-the-dribble and one-on-one. On the next possession, Kameron Chatman went one-on-one to the hole and had his layup blocked. On the other end, Sam Cassell Jr. hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead.
LeVert tried to lead the comeback by himself. He scored 9 of 12 Michigan points during a four-minute stretch that cut the lead to nine. The sniff of a comeback lay on the senior star’s shoulders.
But he made only two more free throws in the game’s waning seconds, both with the result largely determined. LeVert was big when the game was out of hand, and was on the bench when the Wolverines needed him most.
“In the second half, Coach called a lot of plays for myself,” LeVert said. “I just tried to be aggressive and some things opened up for me offensively.”
But for everyone else, the basket was all but closed off. Some os it was poor shot selection. Some of it was just missed open shots. But Beilein said he reminded his team of the date, Nov. 25, after the game, and said it’s better to be losing now than later in the season.
“I just wish our learning curve was faster,” he said.
Sam Blum is a freelance writer.