Michigan overcomes 'mindless' play to hold off Tarleton State
Ann Arbor — Coming off a lopsided loss to Arizona that had some players frustrated and disconnected, Michigan coach Juwan Howard wanted to see better effort and energy from the Wolverines from start to finish.
Instead, he witnessed a team that was in a giving mood Wednesday night, as turnovers piled up at an alarming rate and a 16-point lead dwindled to three with four minutes remaining against Tarleton State.
The No. 20 Wolverines managed to overcome their sloppy play and stave off a late push, closing the game with a 10-2 run to come away with a 65-54 win at Crisler Center.
“I think it's better to have (struggles) right now than at the end of the year when it's really going to count,” said freshman forward Moussa Diabate, who threw down two dunks during the game-sealing spurt and finished with 14 points off the bench.
“I'd rather go through the tough times and learn from it and keep going. …We're learning and we're getting better. We're not even at the bottom of the potential so we've got to keep on going, keep on digging and keep on getting better.”
Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks led the way with 15 points to record the 109th win of his career and become the winningest player in program history, surpassing the all-time mark set by former teammates Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske.
Freshman forward Caleb Houstan had 14 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson added nine points and 10 rebounds for Michigan (4-2), which finished with a season-high 21 turnovers. Six Wolverines turned it over at least twice, with grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones and Brooks combining for 10.
“Talking about the turnovers…I just think that we've got to lock in because that's not how point guards handle stuff, especially under pressure,” Diabate said. “We've got to try to slow down and not let the other team press us and rush us. That's the main thing coach was talking about. That's a collective work to not let the team rush us and give them the chance to put their energy over us.”
After closing the first half on a 10-2 run, Michigan picked up right where it left off, thanks to Brooks. He drained a 3-pointer, found Dickinson for a dunk and came away with a steal that led to two free throws as the Wolverines pushed their lead to 40-24 with 17:21 left to play.
But just when it looked like Michigan had cleaned things up and was on the verge of turning it into a blowout, turnovers crept back up and Tarleton State (1-5) trimmed the deficit to nine four times, the last at the 8:49 mark.
Houstan and Diabate helped keep the Texans at bay and pushed the margin back to double digits on numerous occasions. The two combined to score nine consecutive points for Michigan, the last two on a pair of free throws from Diabate to make it 52-41 with 8:32 remaining.
The Wolverines struggled to close it out until the final few minutes against a team that moved up to Division I last season. Tarleton State ripped off an 8-0 run during a three-minute stretch that saw Diabate miss the front end of a one-and-one, Brooks commit two turnovers and a Dickinson shot get blocked at the rim to pull within 52-49 at the 6:06 mark.
“I think we started to get tired and started to stop talking, didn't have the same energy,” Diabate said. “We started to let them get shots and that's what hurt us. It's a game of runs and it's going to happen, but we've just got to keep going.”
Dickinson made three free throws to push the lead to six, but the Texans answered with a 3-pointer from Shakur Daniel to make it 55-52 with 4:20 to play. That’s as close as they would get, though, as Dickinson and Diabate teamed up for three dunks down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
Montre Gipson scored 17 and Tahj Small 12 for Tarleton State, which shot 33.9% from the field (19-for-56) and scored 22 points off Michigan’s turnovers.
The Wolverines' turnover problems started right out of the gate. Their first three possessions were a pair of turnovers sandwiched around an offensive foul by Jones on a push off during an inbounds pass.
Brooks carried the team early on. He knocked down a 3-pointer, fed senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. for a dunk, blocked a shot to force a shot-clock violation and scored on a driving layup to give Michigan a 7-4 lead with 17:34 left in first half.
While the Wolverines had no trouble making shots — opening 6-for-6 from the field and making 12 of their first 14 attempts — they trailed by three at one point and had 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes, which forced Howard to call an early timeout to talk things over.
“Some of the passes that we were making were — I would say in a respectful way — mindless, forcing when it wasn't available,” Howard said. “Some of the passes that we were making we put too much timing on the ball to allow a player to release and deflect it or steal it. Some passes we were forcing it into traffic and that can't happen in any league that you play in versus any opponent.”
Freshman guard Frankie Collins helped provide a much-needed spark after Jones ran into early foul trouble. He scored on a driving layup during a 7-0 spurt that put Michigan in front for good, 14-12, at the 11:06 mark.
Despite finishing the first half with nearly as many turnovers (11) as made field goals (12), the Wolverines widened the gap with a 10-0 flurry spearheaded by Collins. After knocking down a 3-pointer, he handed out three straight assists to give Michigan a 31-22 lead at the break.
With a trip to North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on tap next Wednesday, the Wolverines will have time to clean things up and mentally reset before they return to action.
“I think we've got to play a little bit slower in terms of not rushing everything and trying to make the home-run play," Houstan said. "Just make the single pass, the easy pass.
“We know we have things to improve on and we're going to do that this week coming up before the next game.”