Before embarking on the 10-day trip to Spain, Michigan interim head coach Saddi Washington made it clear the Wolverines had a lot of work to do.
Thursday’s exhibition game against Serbian pro team KK Mega Bemax reaffirmed that.
Hamstrung by a sputtering offense, Michigan trailed by as many as 18 points before staging a second-half comeback that came up short in an 81-73 loss at Pavello Esportiu Municipal in Sant Julia de Vilatorta.
After falling behind 56-45 with 8:24 to play, Michigan rallied and chopped Mega Bemax’s lead down to 57-55 at the 5:32 mark following back-to-back layups by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis.
However, that’s as close as the Wolverines would get as they went 10-for-17 from the free-throw line and made just four field goals down the stretch — the second on a Brazdeikis basket after he rebounded his own missed free throw to make it 71-68 with 1:13 to go.
Mega Bemax, which has churned out nine NBA Draft picks since 2014, salted the game away at the line in the final minute.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole finished with 16 points to lead the Wolverines, which fell to 1-1 on the foreign tour. Brazdeikis followed up his 17-point effort in the opener with 15 points, while redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews scored 12. Junior guard Zavier Simpson and redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis each added eight points apiece.
As a team, Michigan shot 13-for-24 on free throws and committed 19 turnovers.
Goga Bitadze, a 6-foot-11, 245-pound big man who is projected to be a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Mega Bemax, a team who possessed much more length and chemistry than Michigan’s first overseas opponent, the Madrid Generals.
Using the same starting lineup as it did in the first exhibition — Simpson, Poole, Matthews, sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and junior center Jon Teske — Michigan got off to a better start and led 21-16 after the first quarter.
But the Wolverines hit a cold-shooting stretch in the second and could only muster seven points in the frame, which led to 34-28 halftime deficit and an uphill battle the rest of the way.
The climb only got steeper when Mega Bemax opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run fueled by turnovers and appeared to be on the brink of running away. Poole snapped Michigan’s scoreless streak at the 6:11 mark and provided a needed jolt with a steal and dunk to make it 46-30.
It was the start of an 11-2 spurt as the Wolverines began clawing their way back to cut the deficit to single digits, 48-39, with 2:57 left and 54-45 after three.
However, not all was lost. After the main game was completed, the two teams played an extra 10-minute quarter with a reset score to give players — like freshmen Brandon Johns, David DeJulius and Adrien Nunez, who either didn't play or played sparingly — more game action. Michigan won the extra quarter, 18-16.
The Wolverines will wrap up their three-game exhibition tour on Saturday against Joventut Badalona before heading back home Sunday. The Liga ACB club plays in Spain’s top professional division and should provide the toughest test yet with a roster that features former Purdue sharpshooter Dakota Mathias and former NBA pro Quincy Miller-Scott, who had a brief stint with the Detroit Pistons in 2015.
All the games are played under FIBA rules, which means a 24-second shot clock, a deeper 3-point line and four 10-minute quarters as opposed to two 20-minute halves.