As quickly as Michigan garnered national buzz, it seemingly faded just as fast.
After using two efficient offensive performances to roll to the 2K Classic tournament title at Madison Square Garden in New York, No. 25 Michigan dropped a dud Wednesday in its first game as a ranked team in over a year.
The Wolverines finished 10-for-52 (19.2 percent), including 2-for-26 (7.7 percent) from 3-point range, to finish with its worst shooting percentage in six years in a 61-46 loss at South Carolina
Michigan scored more than half its points on free throws as it failed to eclipse 50 points for the first time since a 45-42 loss to Eastern Michigan on Dec. 9, 2014.
“We look at this long marathon as we go through the season and we don't try to get too amped up. (Winning the 2K Classic) is a highlight and we hope it's not THE highlight of the season,” Michigan coach John Beilein said this week. “We had some consistency with some guys back for the first time and the other teams were replacing some pretty good players, too.
“Now we just have to keep it going. No big deal."
That proved to be extremely difficult against South Carolina’s length, which harassed Michigan with six blocked shots, forced 16 turnovers and didn’t allow a single Wolverine to make more than three field goals.
But Michigan will look to erase the sting and get back on track when it hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday.
“Your resume is many times made during November and December. So every game as you go through this, the so-called guarantee games where you can do real harm to your resume by losing to a team that is not in a top-100 situation,” Beilein said. “You can do great things for your team in the long run if you can beat a team that's in the top 50.
“So you got to treat it a little bit like a tournament atmosphere at the beginning of the year because your resume is built there. If you just say, 'Ah, this doesn't mean anything,' and you go through these 13 games and you don't have the right nine, 10 wins in those 13 games, it could really hurt you. We treat these games really important.”
Despite losing the starting center job, redshirt junior Mark Donnal has put up starter-like numbers through five games, averaging 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes.
More importantly, Donnal has drawn numerous charges on defense and has been the most consistent player off the bench, recording at least eight points and three rebounds in each appearance.
“Right now, he's playing with confidence that really a fourth-year guy should play with,” Beilein said. “We got a bulldog coming off the bench and that's really healthy to have a guy that's coming off with a real purpose like he his."
While minutes have fluctuated with freshmen Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson and Jon Teske, Beilein said the key to their improvement is constantly drilling them in fundamentals in practice, from basics like pivoting to dribbling with speed and strength.
“The stuff that we're working on is all attainable for them, that's why we're excited about them,” Beilein said. “And they're very willing to work at it, as well.
“Then with (freshman center) Austin (Davis) and Jon, they're getting the same attention. But we got to do this. We got to develop them.”
Simpson has eight points and five assists in 49 minutes over five appearances, while Watson has scored 11 in 34 minutes and Teske has two points, two steals and a block in 13 minutes. Davis, who is mulling a redshirt, has yet to play.
Mount St. Mary’s at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV / radio: ESPN3 / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050
Records: No. 25 Michigan 4-1, St. Mary’s 1-5
Outlook: Coming off its first true road game of the season, the Wolverines open up a stretch of four straight at home. …Sophomore G Elijah Long (15.5 points) and freshman F Miles Wilson (11 points) lead St. Mary’s, which is in the midst of nine consecutive road games and has four double-digit losses.