Second-half shortcomings doom Wolverines again: 'That's the theme for us'
East Lansing — Second-half stumbles have plagued and defined Michigan’s season so far.
It happened in losses against Seton Hall and Central Florida, where the Wolverines held a double-digit lead after halftime before letting the game slip away.
It happened at North Carolina, where the Wolverines trailed by two at the break but were blitzed over the final 20 minutes in a 21-point loss. It happened against Minnesota, where the Wolverines trailed by as much as 16 in the second half after neither team led by more than six over the first 25 minutes.
And it happened once again at No. 10 Michigan State as the Wolverines added another chapter to their season-long story.
“That's the theme for us. In the second half, we don't usually play a full 20 minutes,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said after Saturday’s 83-67 loss at Breslin Center.
“Sometimes we just have some mental lapses that open the game up for the other team and today was another example of that. It's something that we need to fix (if) we want to make a run at anything.”
The Wolverines trailed by four points after an intense, back-and-forth first half. But coming out of the break, Michigan fell flat as the offense went cold, the defense struggled in ball screens and in transition, and Michigan State started the half on a 14-3 run to break the game open.
Things didn’t get much better from there for the Wolverines (10-8, 4-4 Big Ten). They made just two shots over the first 10 minutes. They had more turnovers than made field goals for a good portion of the half. They trailed by double digits over the final 16:05 and never made a serious push.
According to Michigan coach Juwan Howard, the latest meltdown had less to do with Xs and Os and was more about effort.
“In the second half it wasn’t anything schematically. I’m not taking away from their coach or the coaching staff, but what they did was unique and special, and give them credit for it,” Howard said. “They came out as the most aggressive team, the most physical team.
“In the first half we were punching and fighting, clawing and scratching. In the second half we backed off and that cannot happen.”
Howard went on to say the Spartans did a better job of grabbing 50-50 balls and making hustle plays. He pointed out Michigan State’s offensive rebounds often led to second-chance layups. He noted there were times the Wolverines didn’t sprint back and missed some defensive assignments in transition that led to 28 fast-break points, which he called “unacceptable.”
Howard added the Spartans made an adjustment and made the Wolverines “feel them” on defense, whether it was on drives to the basket or on entry passes into the post.
“Unfortunately for us, the second half, we did not come out with that intensity and play like we did in the first half,” Howard said.
That even showed on the offensive glass, where Michigan grabbed 16 offensive boards compared to Michigan State’s six but was outscored 11-10 in second-chance points.
In the first half, Michigan turned nine offensive rebounds into eight points. But in the second half, seven offensive boards resulted in only two points as the Wolverines often looked for kick-outs and open teammates on the perimeter.
“The first half when we got offensive rebounds we were aggressively going back and putting it back up,” Howard said. “Second half we didn’t do that at all.”
And by the time it was over, the Wolverines didn’t do anything well over the final 20 minutes. They struggled to make shots, particularly from the perimeter. They had issues on defense, as evidenced by Michigan State’s 44-point half on 59.3% shooting (16-for-27). They committed eight turnovers that the Spartans turned into 14 points.
Add it all up and it led to another loss that followed a similar script.
“We competed,” Howard said, “but we didn't compete for 40 minutes.”
The Spartans and Wolverines are still waiting to find out when — or if — they will meet again this regular season. The hope, from both sides, is that it will happen.
The two teams were originally scheduled to play at Crisler Center on Jan. 8, but that game was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Michigan program.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he’s on board for the game in Ann Arbor to be made up. However, he noted it’s up to the Big Ten and school officials to get it rescheduled.
“There’s not a lot of times when you can redo it, and I don’t know what the efforts are,” Izzo said. “Everything I hear it’s going to be late, like in March. …Personally, I don’t care. I just want to play all the games.”
Michigan’s postponed game against Purdue has already been rescheduled, with one of the Boilermakers’ games getting moved to accommodate the new date.
When asked what needed to be done to get a makeup date set with Michigan State, Howard said: “That’s not a question for me. Talk to the Big Ten and ask them that. We are going to play whoever, whenever, wherever.”
Dickinson dismissed the idea that Michigan might not get another crack at Michigan State, saying: “Oh, we will.”
Looking ahead, March 1 could be a potential date that works for both teams. Michigan has home games against Illinois on Feb. 27 and Iowa on March 3, while Michigan State will host Purdue on Feb. 26 and travel to Ohio State on March 3.
“We always want to play Michigan,” Michigan State senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. said. “If we get another chance to play them, I’m looking forward to it.”