'They made some shots': Michigan basketball succumbs to UCF's second-half surge
Michigan was looking to wrap up its nonconference slate in style and close the year on a high note.
Instead, it ended with a whimper thanks to Central Florida’s Darin Green Jr. and Brandon Mahan.
The duo combined for 53 points, spearheaded a second-half surge that wiped out Michigan’s 12-point lead and torched the Wolverines from 3-point range in an 85-71 loss on Thursday at Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, Florida.
“They made some shots. Some were contested, but there were some shots where we lost our man and gave up some open looks,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “When you do that to a team that shoots the ball extremely well and they have guys in particular who can shoot it, we’ve got to always find those guys and we can’t lose them.
“Tonight, Mahan and Green just truly made us pay anytime we made a defensive mistake.”
Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks scored 18, grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones added 17 points, freshman forward Moussa Diabate had 13 points and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson had 12 points and nine rebounds for Michigan (7-5), which was outscored 54-36 in the second half.
Green scored a career-high 27 points and Mahan added 26 for UCF (9-2), which shot 72% from the field (18-for-25) in the second half and made all eight of its 3-point attempts after halftime. The duo also finished a combined 12-for-16 from beyond the arc.
After a tight first half, Michigan wasted little time creating some separation out of the break with a 9-1 spurt. Jones knocked down a 3-pointer. Diabate canned two free throws. Brooks drove, collapsed the defense and found Dickinson for a dunk. Then after a steal by Jones, Brooks came away with an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to make it 44-32 with 17:34 remaining.
But just when it looked like the Wolverines were starting to pull away, the Knights reeled them back in. Mahan, who scored UCF’s first nine points of the second half, bookended a string of three straight 3-pointers that ignited an 18-2 blitz. Green capped a stretch of 13 unanswered points with a fast-break dunk off a blocked shot and stole the ensuing inbounds pass that led to another dunk, giving UCF a 50-49 lead at the 13:12 mark.
Dickinson momentarily stopped the bleeding with a layup, but UCF kept pushing. The Knights remained on fire from beyond the arc and Green capped the stretch with his sixth 3-pointer to make it 55-51 with 11:46 to play.
“I feel like in the second half, (Green and Mahan) really came out hitting tough shots, but we also gave them some wide-open looks,” Jones said. “If you’ve got guys already hitting tough shots and then they get some wide-open looks, it's basically going to be 100% most of the time. They did a good job of just making those tough shots. We knew coming in those two guys were very thirsty to get their shots off, so that's all on us.”
Added Brooks: "We just didn't make them feel us (defensively). I don't think we contested enough. In the first half, they got comfortable. When you're comfortable, you make shots."
The Wolverines pulled within one twice but could do little to cool off UCF’s offense. Mahan had the hot hand and drained another 3-pointer. Then, Howard was whistled for a technical foul — he disagreed with a charge call on sophomore forward Terrance Williams II — that led to two free throws and a 62-56 lead for the Knights with 8:40 remaining.
Michigan countered with a pair of deep balls of its own from Jones and Brooks to trim it to 64-62, but it could pull no closer as the wheels fell off. The Wolverines missed five straight shots and couldn’t get stops, while the Knights turned a turnover into a layup and used a seventh 3-pointer from Green to push the lead to 72-63 with 3:33 left.
From there, the Wolverines trailed by at least six points the rest of the way until the Knights salted the game away at the free-throw line over the final minute.
“I think it’s one of the best second halves we’ve ever had,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Our guys really responded well both offensively and defensively. Defensively, our guys really started to dig deep, especially when we got down.
“Offensively, when we get on a roll and we get to making shots like we’re capable of, you see what can happen tonight. The basket gets really big for certain shooters on our team.”
Playing for the first time since Dec. 18 and for just the second time in 19 days, the Wolverines leaned on Brooks and Diabate during a fast-paced, up-and-down start.
The duo combined for 14 points over the first six and a half minutes as Michigan took a 16-11 lead. Brooks knocked down a jumper, buried a pair of 3-pointers and found Dickinson for an alley-oop dunk. Diabate scored on a second-chance bucket, knocked down a baseline jumper and converted another basket around the rim.
UCF took advantage of a turnover and a pair of offensive rebounds to stay close before Jones scored off an offensive board and Williams scored a layup in transition to push Michigan’s lead to 23-17 at the 9:20 mark.
The Wolverines eventually hit a rough patch. They missed seven straight shots and slogged through a four-minute scoreless stretch until freshman guard Kobe Bufkin snapped the drought with a 3-pointer.
Green, though, seemingly couldn’t miss and single-handedly prevented Michigan from sustaining any momentum. He scored eight straight for UCF and trimmed the deficit to three before Michigan used a dunk and offensive tip-in from Dickinson to push the lead to seven en route to a 35-31 halftime lead.
“I feel like in the first half we did we did pretty decent,” Jones said. “With us, we've got to be a two-half team. We can't just be a one-half team. We'll never win that way.
"We've got to come out with the same energy for that whole 20 minutes. I feel like the first half is always big for us. I think we've got to come with that same mindset in the second half."