Matt Charboneau, John Niyo and James Hawkins of The Detroit News break down Michigan State's 77-70 win over Michigan The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis drove baseline and threw down a two-handed dunk to send the sea of maize into a frenzy.
The play capped a run Michigan used to roar out of halftime and take a six-point lead with 15:42 left to play in Sunday’s rivalry matchup against Michigan State.
But just when it seemed like the Wolverines were on the cusp of seizing control, that’s when a familiar foible surfaced: the dreaded offensive drought.
After Brazdeikis’ dunk, Michigan went over five minutes without scoring and missed 15 of its next 18 shots as the dry spell turned costly in a 77-70 loss at Crisler Center.
“I feel like we missed some shots,” Brazdeikis said. “We didn't make the right decisions at times. I feel like we could've definitely done better offensively, for sure. There were matchups and stuff that we could've went to and played off of.
“I feel like they definitely did a great job on defense. Then again, I feel like we gotta do things we can control, and we definitely let it out of our hands. That's the biggest thing.”
Michigan has been able to overcome most of its prolonged periods of offensive ineptitude this season, thanks to its defense. But similar game-crippling droughts have played a role in all of the team’s losses.
The Wolverines (24-4, 13-4 Big Ten) only made four shots in the final 9:16 at Wisconsin. They could only muster one basket over a five-minute stretch when Iowa ripped off a 21-2 run from which they could never recover. And they made only one field goal over a roughly nine-minute span late in the second half at Penn State.
Part of it had to do with those teams forcing Michigan to play a half-court game, with Wisconsin imposing its typical style of play and Iowa and Penn State using a press, and the Wolverines struggling to adjust and execute. And part of it had to do with Michigan’s defense not being able to string together enough stops and feed the offense, with all three teams shooting at least 44.8 percent from the field.
Against Michigan State, it was a similar situation.
“I feel like it's also our defense because sometimes we create offense off of our defense. They were making shots, they were making plays,” Brazdeikis said. “They were kind of slowing the game down for us a little bit, and we didn't have those open looks. I feel like we were playing in the half court a lot this game. There weren’t many transition buckets. With that, it's always tough to play a team that's set and always ready to go. I feel like that definitely affected us.”
Junior center Jon Teske said the difference between the two halves was simple. Michigan were able to get open shots and had a good shot selection in the first half. For most of the second half, there wasn’t the same level of patience and poise.
“It kind of kept going and we pushed a little bit,” Teske said of the second-half struggles. “We were not necessarily looking for our right shots that we usually take. They were doing a good job of taking away a lot of good shots that we usually get.”
Much of that had to do with Michigan State’s scouting report and defensive game plan. The Spartans switched up their defensive tactics by switching a lot of ball screens instead of hedging. They also dared guys like junior guard Zavier Simpson to shoot by going underneath screens and forced the Wolverines to play one-on-one out on the perimeter.
The strategy threw off the timing on offense and caught Michigan coach John Beilein off guard. Beilein noted he “tried a whole bunch of stuff” but couldn’t get any leverage against Michigan State’s defense, as six players missed shots during the cold stretch and the Wolverines finished with a season-low six assists.
“I think our shot selection is better than it was earlier in the year, but we've got to take good shots at that time,” Beilein said. “When we're in the one-and-one situations right now we’ve got to be more effective with it. We've got to continue to work on it offensively ourselves. We have certain habits that are not good for some one-on-one situations and we're trying to break those habits. But when that's been going on for 10 years, it's hard to break it in the short time we have.”
And with three regular-season games remaining, there’s not a lot of time to fix what’s ailing Michigan’s offense.
“We could've definitely done some things offensively differently,” Brazdeikis said. “Maybe been a little more aggressive in certain aspects and making the right play.
"We definitely will watch film on it, learn from it, get better from it, but then move on. There's nothing to hold on to. We got three more to go, so we gotta keep our confidence up. That's all that matters. As long we stay confident and continue to believe in ourselves, this game will only make us better."