What went wrong in the closing moments of UM's loss to Seton Hall?
Ann Arbor — When Michigan and Seton Hall met in the 1989 national-championship game, the Wolverines made the winning plays down the stretch and used a pair of clutch free throws from Rumeal Robinson to come out on top.
Over 30 years later, a similar situation unfolded in Tuesday night’s Gavitt Games matchup at Crisler Center. This time, Michigan couldn’t follow the same script.
The No. 4 Wolverines had a chance to extend the game with 0.8 seconds left, but sophomore forward Terrance Williams II clanked the first of two free throws off the front of the rim and accidentally banked in his second attempt as Seton Hall pulled off a 67-65 upset.
While Williams’ critical miss was the final blow, it was merely part of a combination of things that went wrong for Michigan late in the game, from costly turnovers to careless fouls to defensive breakdowns.
“We can’t blame nobody but ourselves,” grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones said. “It shouldn't have even been that close in the first place.”
Despite a poor outside shooting performance, the Wolverines managed to build an 11-point lead when Jones leaked out for a fast-break layup with 14:14 left to play. From there, the lead gradually slipped away.
Michigan committed eight of its 11 turnovers over the final 12 minutes, including a shot clock violation and 10-second backcourt violation. Those empty possessions were magnified as Seton Hall cut into the deficit.
“Fundamentally, we've got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” said coach Juwan Howard, whose contract extension was announced before game. “It's a learning process for all of us.”
Offensively, Howard said he was content with his team’s shot selection but felt there were times the Wolverines didn’t take advantage of what Seton Hall’s defense was giving them.
Outside of fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, much of the team struggled. Freshman forward Caleb Houstan had a rough night and shot 1-for-9 from the field, missing all four of his 3-point attempts. Senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. was 3-for-9 from the floor and was hesitant to pull the trigger at times when he was open.
The Wolverines combined to shoot 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. They missed their first 11 long-range attempts and didn’t make a 3-pointer until the 11:18 mark of the second half.
While part of that can be chalked to having an off night, part of it can also be attributed to Seton Hall’s defensive approach to switch screens one through four, something Michigan hadn’t seen yet this season and had a tough time navigating.
“(It’s about) finding different sets that are going to work through switching and executing those plays,” Brooks said. “If you hold someone to 67 points in a game, you're going to win that game a lot of times.”
Despite holding Seton Hall to 40% shooting (24-for-60) from the field and 30% (9-for-30) from 3-point range, Michigan wasn’t entirely pleased with its defense. The Wolverines committed 13 second-half fouls, including five in the final 2:25 that sent the Pirates to the line and allowed them to take the lead twice.
Of Seton Hall’s nine made 3-pointers, three came during a four-minute stretch that wiped out Michigan’s nine-point lead and tied the game for the first time in the second half. All three were open looks. The first came when the Pirates swung the ball and caught the Wolverines scrambling. The second came on an inbounds play from the baseline. The third came on a simple drive and kick.
"We messed up on some of our coverages on defense,” Jones said. “They got a lot of open 3s. That's something that I know Coach Howard is going to get on us about. We're a defensive team first and we let them get too many open 3s and that's just not us.”
Added Howard: “There were a lot of mistakes made defensively throughout 40 minutes of play. It was not just down the stretch.”
Still, Michigan had its chances late. Down one with 29 seconds left, Brooks drove around a Dickinson screen and missed a floater off the rim. Then after Seton Hall split a pair of free throws, Howard used his final timeout and put the ball back in Brooks’ hands.
On the final possession, Brooks got downhill and was looking for Dickinson but saw the paint was packed.
“We switched to a zone real late,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “Our goal was to try to take the Brooks-Dickinson pick-and-roll out of the equation. We tried to get someone else to take a shot other than those two.”
The plan worked as Brooks circled under the basket and passed it out Williams, who was able to get his defender in the air and draw the foul before coming up short on his first free throw in a finish that lacked late-game execution.
“Just taking care of the ball, making sure we get a shot every time down the floor, that’s crucial,” Brooks said. “Also guarding without fouling. Not sending them to the free throw line in crunch time. Those two things will go a long way.”
In the grand scheme of things, it’s just one loss in November. But it’s a setback that will have its share of painful lessons in an outing marred by missed opportunities and mistakes.
“I feel like this is something we needed,” Jones said. “It's good for us because we're going to come out way better throughout the season. We ain't going to be lackadaisical. We're going to take every game serious, which we already did, but I feel like this is definitely going to help us in the long run.”
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