'It's a mental thing': Deep ball doesn't fall for Michigan, sealing fate in loss to MSU

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

East Lansing — A recurring scene unfolded for the Wolverines.

In another true road game, No. 12 Michigan struggled to dial it in from 3-point range and finished 5-for-23 from beyond the arc in Sunday's 87-69 loss to No. 14 Michigan State at the Breslin Center.

Against the Spartans, the Wolverines (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten) missed their first six long-range attempts and didn’t make their first deep ball until freshman wing Franz Wagner buried a 3-pointer with 7:33 left in the first half.

Michigan's Eli Brooks was 0-for-4 on 3-pointers on Sunday.

That essentially set the tone for the day. Michigan, which entered Sunday’s contest ranked No. 16 in the nation in 3-point shooting at 38.7 percent, went 2-for-12 from deep in the first half and 3-for-11 in the second.

And the struggles weren’t limited to just one player. Senior guard Zavier Simpson, junior guard Eli Brooks and sophomore guard David DeJulius, who were each shooting at least 40 percent from deep on the season, went a combined 1-for-12.

In total, six Wolverines attempted at least two 3-pointers and only Wagner (2-for-3) made more than one.

"We've just got to be confident in the shots we take,” senior center Jon Teske said. “We've got to trust that those shots will go in. Coach (Phil) Martelli said we had a lot of shots in the first half and how many of those shots do you trust to go in, expect to go in or are you just kind of shooting it? We've just got to have the mindset that the shot is going to go in regardless if it does or doesn't.”

It didn’t help that Michigan was without junior forward Isaiah Livers, the team’s top 3-point shooter (50 percent) who missed his second straight game with a left groin injury. However, Teske said he didn’t think Livers’ absence affected Michigan’s spacing on offense “too much.”

Instead, several Wolverines said the issue was they were second-guessing themselves and being trigger-shy when they had an open shot. For instance, sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr., who was making his second straight start in place of Livers, became hesitant and passed up several clean looks after he missed his first 3-point attempt.

“Sometimes I didn't feel like I was open, but they were just telling me to shoot it because I've proven myself to be able to shoot,” Johns said. “Of course, everybody is getting frustrated with me not shooting, so I just wanted to try to be comfortable out there shooting.

"It's a mental thing. We've just got to stay mentally strong, mentally composed. The more we do that, the more our shots will fall.”

Assistant coach Saddi Washington credited the job Michigan State did playing in the gaps, guarding the elbows and closing out quickly on jump shots for causing some of the problems.

But Washington said the Wolverines need to be more “shot ready” on passes out of the post and on dribble-drive kick-outs.

"You've just got to believe you can make it,” Washington said. “It's definitely not for a lack of ability, but you've got to step up and shoot the ball with confidence. I think once guys look at the tape and see the opportunities that I think that we missed out on, they'll probably kick themselves in the butt a little bit for not taking advantage of it.”

Combined with the losses at Louisville (3-for-19) and Illinois (3-for-18), Michigan is shooting 18.3 percent (11-for-60) from 3-point range in road games.

It's a drastic dip compared to Michigan's 3-point numbers at home (39.9 percent; 77-for-193) and at neutral sites (47.1 percent; 33-for-70).

"There were some shots that did not fall. Unfortunately for us that has been our norm when we go on the road," coach Juwan Howard said. "The 3s don't fall for us when we are on the road. We've just got to keep forging ahead, mentally stay with it and keep working, which we will.”

Fired up

With roughly 13 minutes left to play, Howard picked up his first technical foul of the season when he stormed onto the court to argue with an official during the middle of a Michigan State fast break.

Howard was livid after no foul was called when multiple Michigan State defenders contested a layup attempt by redshirt junior center Austin Davis that sent Davis crashing to the hardwood.

"I'm going to back up my team for all 40 minutes of the ballgame,” Howard said. “On that possession, I had seen enough. I saw a lot of contact. I saw contact being made when we were driving to the lane to finish and getting hit on the arm. Then I saw contact when one of my bigs went up to try to finish and he got bumped.

“To me, it looked like an obvious foul. Unfortunately, it wasn't called so I got a little beside myself. I'm an emotional guy, but I'm always going to fight for my players."

Teske said while the technical might’ve helped energize the team, it was merely an example of Howard staying true to his word.

“I didn't really see that play or how that ended up, but he's going to protect us,” Teske said. “He always says that. We trust him that he's going to be on officials and he's going to protect us. He always has our back.”

Slam dunks

Johns, an East Lansing native, received a healthy helping of boos when he was introduced during the player intros before the game.

The rowdy Breslin Center crowd never let up on Johns throughout the contest and roared noticeably louder any time he touched the ball, missed a shot or was whistled for a foul.

“It was great, I love it,” said Johns, who tied his career high with 12 points. “I love that stuff. It's like a fire. You take it and you embrace it. I just love it. It's supposed to get under people's skin, but I think when you're a true competitor it really just fires you up.”

… For the second straight game, Livers was dressed in sweats on the bench and walked with no visible limp. However, Howard said it’s too early to tell whether Livers will be able to suit up for Thursday’s home game against Purdue.

“We're going to see tomorrow and continue with the treatment,” Howard said. “(Athletic trainer) Alex Wong and our medical staff are doing a phenomenal job. (Strength and conditioning coach) Jon Sanderson is doing whatever he can to keep his conditioning up. We'll take a look at it on Thursday, but right now I can't say what's his prognosis for Thursday.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins