Wolverines say they'll return a 'different team'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan forward Mark Donnal (34) gets a rebound above Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger (0) in the second half.

New York — It's not easy to put on a happy face, not when you're a relative kid, not when you've lost a game you think you should've won, not when your season is over.

But Michigan players did their best to be accommodating of the line of questioning.

"People didn't even think we would make the NCAA Tournament," Zak Irvin said. "For us to be able to do that, I thought we ended pretty strong.

"It's just tough to swallow this loss."

Michigan's season — so up and so down, then so up again, and now down — ended with a 70-63 loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at Barclays Center.

It caps off a season in which Michigan lost its two senior captains, Caris Levert and Spike Albrecht, to injuries, but, in the end, got through it, and got here.

"We've been through a ton of adversity," Mark Donnal said. "One of our goals before the season even started was to make the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't know if I would consider the season a success, because we know we're capable of much more than what we accomplished. But there's a lot of good takeaways that we can take from this season, that we did well given the circumstances."

Not that all that's much of a consolation prize at a time like this. Michigan had Notre Dame beaten, and let the Irish off the hook.

It's the first close game Michigan's lost since the postseason began, following late escape wins over Northwestern, Indiana and Tulsa.

Those wins came after Michigan dropped four of the final five regular-season games, putting Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament, in most people's eyes.

"We're far from satisfied, this is a really tough loss," Duncan Robinson said. "But we accomplished a lot of things and learned a lot of things about each other.

"And we're ready to make this offseason the best offseason possible, and come back a different team."

Eyes of envy

Michigan coach John Beilein recruited many of the starters for Notre Dame, including forward V.J. Beachem.

Beachem proved the back-breaker for the Wolverines, with back-to-back baskets late in the game — a deep, shot-clock 3, followed by a tough, contested jumper.

"Nothing was bigger than the shot-clock 3. It was deep and it was really deep. It was a momentum changer in the game," Beilein said.

"It was a big play in the game and we couldn't answer some of those plays."

Beachem, of Fort Wayne, Ind., finished with 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting, five of those coming in the big second half.

It was a nice start toward redemption for Beachem, who struggled mightily in the postseason last season, which ended a win shy of the Final Four for Notre Dame.

"I'm really proud of him," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "For him to deliver like he did in D.C. (ACC tournament) and to deliver tonight when we really need him. It's a great kid who's a junior and has grown and matures, and he's a terrific guy."

Blanketing the opposition

Neither of these teams is known for great, or even good, or even mediocre defense.

Yet, Notre Dame went man-to-man in the second and half and absolutely flustered a Michigan team that shot 51.6 percent in the first half.

Michigan led 41-29 at the half, but scored only 22 points the rest of the game -- thanks to a scoring drought of more than six minutes.

"This was like some of our really good wins, North Carolina, Louisville, where we almost have to have our life flashing before our very eyes, as we were at halftime, to dig in and defend," Brey said. "A lot of our great wins, we were down, and it was like, we've got to dig in, and we did. Again, to hold them to 22 or 23, we can play it when we need to.

"I'd like to see us play it a little longer, quite frankly."

Beilein credited Brey with the defensive attack in the second half.

Michigan shot 9-for-32 in the second half, after shooting 16-for-31 in the first.

"You know," said Beilein, "one game, you have a bad half, it's over."