No. 24 Wolverines fail miserably in second half in loss to Tar Heels, 72-51

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

For the first time in quite some time, Michigan faced a true road test in a hostile environment packed with fans.

The No. 24 Wolverines failed miserably as they completely fell apart in the second half and were blown out by North Carolina, 72-51, in Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup.

Freshman forward Moussa Diabate made his first start, replacing senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. in the lineup, and finished with 13 points. Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks added 11 points for Michigan, which shot a season-low 35.1% from the field (20-for-57) and sputtered along on offense much of the night.

The Wolverines (4-3) were outscored 43-24 in the second half and made just nine shots after halftime in a game where sophomore center Hunter Dickinson was saddled with foul trouble and turned in one of the least effective outings of his career with four points.

BOX SCORE: North Carolina 72, Michigan 51

"It's tough when you're missing one of your best players who generates a lot of the offense for us,” coach Juwan Howard said. “(Dickinson) played very limited minutes, especially in the second half when we needed to score."

After a tight back-and-forth first half, things started to get away from Michigan out of the break. North Carolina went right at Dickinson and he picked up his third and fourth fouls on the same possession less than two minutes into the second half.

North Carolina guard Caleb Love (2) guards Michigan guard DeVante' Jones (12) during the first half.

With Dickinson on the bench, the Tar Heels (5-2) seized control and used a pair of three-point plays — the second coming on an offensive rebound and putback — to take a 37-31 lead with 16:54 remaining.

The deficit continued to grow as Dickinson continued to sit. Michigan’s offense went cold, making one field goal over a six-minute stretch and missing nine consecutive shots. North Carolina kept attacking, using a 3-pointer and offensive putback from Dawson Garcia to make it 46-35 at the 12:19 mark.

"We've got to do a better job of executing plays,” Brooks said. “I think they forced us out of our sets. That played a big part in the drought.

“We were giving them easy points. Mental mistakes allowed them to get layups. It's hard to get stops when you're giving them good looks. We've got to limit the quality looks that they get, and compound mistakes have to stop."

Johns snapped a four-minute scoring drought with a 3-pointer at 9:54 mark, but it only temporarily stopped the bleeding as Michigan was run out of the Dean Smith Center. Caleb Love threw down an emphatic dunk off a turnover and drained back-to-back 3-pointers to kick-start an overwhelming 20-5 flurry that put the game well out of reach.

By the time Love provided the finishing touches with another jumper with 3:51 remaining, the Wolverines found themselves in a 68-43 hole that they never came close to climbing out of.

“North Carolina really took advantage (with Dickinson out) scoring inside pretty easy, with less resistance,” Howard said. “There were some tough shots by Caleb Love from the outside that gave them a big lift and helped key that run. This is a teachable moment. I trust we will get better from this, but it's tough to win any game when one of your best players only plays 17 minutes."

North Carolina guard Caleb Love (2) and Michigan center Hunter Dickinson (1) reach for the ball during the first half.

Love finished with 22 points, Garcia scored 14 and Armando Bacot had 11 points and 14 rebounds for North Carolina, which shot 58.1% from the field (18-for-31) after halftime and outscored Michigan 34-20 in the paint.

It was a struggle out of the gate for Michigan and North Carolina. Over the first four minutes, the Wolverines turned it over five times, gave up four offensive rebounds and saw Dickinson and Diabate each pick up an early foul. The Tar Heels didn’t fare much better, missing eight of 10 shots before the first media timeout.

Diabate had the hot hand and made his first five shots as he and freshman forward Caleb Houstan combined for 19 of Michigan’s first 21 points. Diabate backed down a defender and finished with left hook to give Michigan a 9-8 lead with 13:00 left.

Diabate followed that up by draining a 3-pointer from the left wing. Then after Houstan made a deep ball, Diabate scored another bucket at the rim and knocked down a mid-range jumper during an 8-2 spurt that put Michigan ahead, 23-18, at the 5:37 mark.

From there, the Wolverines stumbled the rest of the way. North Carolina used a 7-0 run to grab a 29-27 halftime lead that it would never relinquish, sending Michigan to its worst start since the 2009-10 season.

"It's very early, man. We're 4-3,” Howard said. “It's seven games. We haven't even gotten to the Big Ten season yet. I think this is going to make us a better team and I trust it will.

"We have a very competitive schedule, and I love our schedule and the type of teams that we’re playing — really good teams. We’re going to get better from this."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins