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'Doubt in their eyes': Michigan's lack of energy, focus lead to early timeouts

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The beginning of the first and second halves unfolded in a similar fashion.

Penn State punched Michigan in the mouth with a run and put the Wolverines on their heels in Wednesday’s 72-63 loss at Crisler Center.

As a result, coach Juwan Howard felt compelled to burn a timeout within the first three minutes of each half.

"I'm not going to tell you exactly what I said,” Howard said. “But I will say this: It was about that we have to make an adjustment on how we want to play the game.”

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard talks with Michigan guard Zavier Simpson (3) during a timeout in the second half.

According to junior guard Eli Brooks, the message both times was frank: The Wolverines weren’t ready to play and weren’t locked in.

“The energy wasn't there from tip-off and into the second half to start,” said Brooks, who finished with 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting. “We have to do a better job of starting games and not trying to get behind and playing from behind.”

The Nittany Lions made their first four shots and opened up a 9-2 lead before Howard called a timeout 2:09 into the game. While Howard thought his team came out with “a lot of good energy” and played with a sense of urgency, he noticed something different.

“I kind of seen some guys had a little doubt in their eyes,” Howard said. “That's not how we have to approach games that we play, especially when we're playing at home. This is a place that we've had a lot of success. This is our home court. We're very familiar with the rims, very familiar with the lighting as well as the atmosphere.”

When Penn State opened the second half with a 7-3 run to push its lead to 13, Howard once again wasted little time using a timeout just 2:45 into the half.

The Wolverines rattled off a run after each timeout. In the first half, they used a 17-6 spurt to take a four-point lead. In the second half, they scored eight straight points to whittle the 13-point deficit down to five.

While Howard was pleased with the way his team responded after each brief talk, he noted there was “too much lack of focus” and the team wasn’t “consistent with our level of play" throughout the contest. That led to mistakes and miscues on both ends on the court.

But for Brooks, the issue still centered around the team’s lethargic effort at the start of both halves. He said the team looks to senior guard Zavier Simpson, the most vocal Wolverine, to get them going.

Yet, Brooks insisted Simpson can’t be the only one the Wolverines feed off of. Brooks admitted he prefers to lead by example, but added he can be more talkative to help inspire and bring energy for his teammates.

“I think that's where moving forward we can do a better job as a team, more people bringing that fire,” Brooks said. “But being uncomfortable with that position and being vulnerable like X is, it's tough. Some people just don't lead that way. I think we need more people to step up and lead that way.”

Tightening it up

Howard stuck with a seven-man rotation against Penn State, with sophomore guard David DeJulius and redshirt junior center Austin Davis the only reserves to check into the game.

Sophomore wing Adrien Nunez and sophomore center Colin Castleton both didn't see any action. It was the third time Nunez sat an entire game this season and first time for Castleton.

“It was challenging to put Adrien Nunez as well as Colin in the game,” Howard said. “They played a lot of small ball and if (Castleton) was playing the four he would have to guard one of their small perimeters who is also a shooter, so I had to make an adjustment from there. As far as when it came to Adrien Nunez, they had some guys that were playing very well on their end and driving it down our throat.”

With the shortened rotation, Simpson ended up playing all 40 minutes for the second time in three games, while freshman wing Franz Wagner and Brooks each played at least 36 minutes.

“I trusted Zavier and unfortunately at times I kind of thought I could maybe give him a breather, but we needed him in there,” Howard said. “I was trying my best to try to sub him out, but it was challenging. I was mixing and matching.”

Slam dunks

Michigan’s 35.3 percent (24-for-68) shooting from the field and 17.9 percent (5-for-28) shooting from 3-point range were its second and third lowest numbers, respectively, in a game this season.

… The nine-point loss was Michigan’s largest margin of defeat at Crisler Center since its 10-point loss to Iowa on March 5, 2016.

… Michigan’s two home losses this season ties its total from the past two seasons combined.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins