'We weren't ready': Gophers hand careless Wolverines first loss in rout
It was only a matter of time before Michigan was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten.
That time finally came on Saturday afternoon in a Top-25 rematch against No. 23 Minnesota.
A mound of turnovers and a poor shooting performance. A pair of strong outings from Liam Robbins and Marcus Carr. An injured Eli Brooks. All of it was too much to overcome as the Gophers turned the tables on the No. 7 Wolverines in a 75-57 thumping at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
“Minnesota was ready, and we weren't ready,” said senior forward Isaiah Livers, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. “We weren't ready from the start like we usually are. We didn't come out with that intensity. I think guys lacked some focus.”
That showed as the Wolverines (11-1, 6-1 Big Ten) never led and turned in their worst all-around performance that was ugly and sloppy from start to finish. After trailing by as much as 12 during an abysmal first half, Michigan’s offense was constantly disrupted and could never catch up.
Michigan made a slight push, pulling within 41-35 on a 3-pointer from senior guard Chaundee Brown with 13:58 remaining and forcing a 10-second backcourt violation on the ensuing possession.
But just when it appeared the Wolverines were getting off the mat, the Gophers pinned them down and maintained control. Robbins blocked a dunk attempt by fifth-year senior center Austin Davis and Minnesota responded with a 7-0 spurt that Carr capped with a dunk to make it 48-35 at the 11:58 mark.
“That was supposed to be our run,” Livers said. “That was key because we were down all game. That was us scratching and digging back.
“They were prepared in the first and second half and they came out hitting us first.”
The Wolverines couldn’t string together the stops and shots required to make another push. They cut the deficit to eight before the Gophers pulled away with an 18-4 flurry and put Michigan in a 66-44 hole with 5:16 left.
The Wolverines trailed by as much as 23 points en route to shooting a season-worst 39.3% from the field (22-for-56) and tying a season high with 20 turnovers. The 57 points were also a season low.
“When you turn the ball over 20 times and a team scores 23 points off of those turnovers, it's just hard to win. It's that simple,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “You can prepare all you want. When you give a team 20 extra possessions in basketball, it's a possession game.
“Some of the turnovers were caused on our end by not making good decisions with the basketball, like forcing some plays that they thought guys were open but weren’t, not doing a good job of reading the defense.”
Brown finished with 14 points and made his first start of the season in place of Brooks, who was out with a right foot strain, while most of the other Wolverines were held in check. Freshman center Hunter Dickinson was held to a season-low nine points. Sophomore wing Franz Wagner finished with eight points, all coming in the second half. Grad transfer guard Mike Smith had 10 assists but didn't score.
Robbins finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, Carr had 17 points and six assists and Gabe Kalscheur scored 10 for Minnesota (11-4, 4-4), which shot 46.8% from the field (29-for-62) and avenged its 25-point loss to Michigan last week to improve to 11-0 at home.
"Where I think that we really changed was we turned up the heat on the ball. We changed a lot of our coverages defensively,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “Story of the game was to turn over an awesome offensive team 20 times and to guard our butts off for 40 minutes.
"To beat a Michigan team who was blowing everybody out, ourselves included, it was a great response from our guys."
Minnesota’s increased ball pressure and aggressive defense contributed to some of Michigan's unforced errors, an issue that began early on. Over the first five minutes of the game, the Wolverines committed five turnovers and made just one shot.
Even after Robbins picked up two early fouls, Michigan’s offense continued to sputter along and couldn't get into a flow. By the time the Wolverines hit the double-digit mark, they put up 14 shots, committed seven turnovers and trailed 16-10 with 8:39 left in the first half.
Minnesota pulled ahead 24-12 before the Wolverines showed signs of life with a 9-0 spurt that featured a pair of 3-pointers from Livers to cut the deficit to three.
But when halftime arrived, Michigan had more turnovers (11) than made field goals (10) and found itself trailing, 30-23. And things didn’t get much better from there.
“Big fella Robbins and the rest of Minnesota Gophers, they were ready to compete,” Howard said. “We didn't do a very good job of competing.
"We never thought that we would be 27-0, 28-0 or whatever. We always look at it as one game at a time. This loss, you learn from it. We expect to be better next game."