Michigan coach addresses his team's performance in Tuesday's 75-69 loss against last-place Penn State at Bryce Jordan Center. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
University Park, Pa. — Roughly 30 minutes after suffering a court-storming defeat, redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews stood in the bowels of Bryce Jordan Center with his eyes fixed on the stat sheet.
The longer he looked at the numbers, the more Matthews grew frustrated with everything that led to No. 6 Michigan’s downfall in Tuesday’s 75-69 loss at Penn State.
“They punked us. Simple as that,” Matthews said. “They outrebounded us by 10, had 12 offensive rebounds. You're not winning a game giving a team 12 offensive rebounds. All of y'all are flattered by scoring and points, that (stuff) don't matter. It's all about who's going to rebound and who's going to defend. And we didn't do that.”
The Nittany Lions (9-15, 2-11) finished with a decisive edge on the glass, 35-25, and the 10-rebound difference tied for the second-widest margin the Wolverines (22-3, 11-3) were beaten by this season.
For Matthews, keeping Penn State off the boards was an effort issue that was “clear as day” from the beginning when the Nittany Lions took advantage of several second-chance opportunities to build an early first-half lead.
But that was only one part of the box score that drew Matthews' ire.
“We barely give up five 3s a game,” Matthews said. “We gave the (Myles) Dread kid eight attempts, first of all, and five made 3s. That's ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.
“How are you going to let a player get five 3s? We've got to be better than that as a collective group. People talk about coach (John Beilein) getting ejected. That had nothing to do with it. We gave up 34 free throw attempts. You're not winning no game, that's ridiculous. You can't guard that. That's 21 free points right there.”
In the first meeting between the teams, the Nittany Lions only made one 3-pointer on 14 attempts. It took Dread less than four minutes into the game to top that with two deep balls.
As for the free throws, Penn State’s 34 attempts were the most, by far, by an opponent this season. The previous high was 24 taken by Iowa two weeks ago, a mark the Nittany Lions nearly tied with their 21 made free throws.
Yet, what irked Matthews the most was the team’s first-half performance where Penn State outhustled and outplayed Michigan on both ends.
The Wolverines’ offense was thrown out of sync by Penn State's press and their second-ranked defense looked far from formidable as the Nittany Lions hung up 40 points by halftime.
It was only the second time Michigan allowed an opponent to score at least 40 in the first half this season and the second-highest total surrendered in any half, only trailing the 42 scored by South Carolina and Iowa.
“There was no sense of urgency, lack of focus, lack of effort,” Matthews said. “As simple as that.
“We came back and fought (in the second half). … The game was lost in the first half.”
The stunning defeat tripped up the Wolverines in an already tight Big Ten race and jumbled the pack atop the standings with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all tied with three losses.
And with a rough closing stretch that includes two games apiece against Michigan State and Maryland, Beilein dismissed the notion that stumbling against last-place Penn State was a wasted opportunity to create some separation.
“They're good. They just haven't won games,” Beilein said. “It's not like they're getting blown out and all of a sudden they come in, they're a bottom-200 team and they end up coming in and beating us.
“Especially this time of the year, teams are going to lose, and you've got to learn from it. If there are things that happen in this game that helps us beat Maryland Saturday, I'm all in. That's the way you've got to look at it.”
But how Matthews sees it, there's only way to look at Tuesday's fiasco: Don't get punked again.
“We've got to find some type of silver lining in (the loss),” Matthews said. “I'm not going to hang my head and quit before the end of the season. We’ve got to go out fighting. That's all I know is fighting. That's how I grew up. I'm going to get my teammates to rally on with me, and we've got to be better.
“Time is running short. There ain't no more, 'We'll fix it later.' Time is now. There's no more excuses.”