In the most unlikely college basketball upset since Gardner Webb won at Kentucky in 2007, NJIT escaped from the Crisler Center with a 72-70 win on Saturday afternoon.
The Highlanders, who had never even faced a top-25 team before traveling to Ann Arbor, have only been a Division I team for six years and their short tenure includes a 51 game losing streak. There were troubling signs of an upset brewing from the early moments of the noon Saturday tip-off.
The Wolverines looked flat and lethargic. The offense lacked any zip – Michigan finished with as many turnovers (8) as assists for the game – and allowed NJIT to hang around despite horrific turnover woes early in the game.
After NJIT started the game with four turnovers and a missed shot, the Wolverines managed just an 8-0 lead. Michigan should have led by more, but instead its lackadaisical play gave the Highlanders the inkling of hope that they so badly needed. The first half was close throughout and in the second half, the wheels fell off for John Beilein’s group.
The Wolverine offense went cold – failing to score for over seven minutes midway through the half – and NJIT put together a 13-0 run to take a seven point lead. Michigan answered with a run of its own and recovered the lead, but the Highlanders answered back by making 7 of their final 11 shots from the field including three incredible three-pointers from Damon Lynn.
Michigan had chances down the stretch, but NJIT finished out the game. Caris LeVert – who was otherwise terrific with 25 second half points – turned the ball over down one with 44 seconds to play and Michigan was unable to secure a defensive rebound after NJIT missed with eight seconds to play.
Michigan’s offense scored 1.19 points per possession, but never seemed to control the game. The Wolverines looked disjointed and were rarely able to find the quick strike offense that defines their greatest success. The offensive attack was largely predicated on isolation basketball and easy baskets were few and far behind against a NJIT defense that played very well.
While the flow of Michigan’s offense might have been frustrating, it still should have been good enough to win the game. Michigan’s offensive performance was almost identical to its season averages of a 52.7 eFG%, 14.5% turnover rate, 31.6% offensive rebound rate and 28.9% free throw rate.
The game was lost with defense.
In the first half, NJIT’s hot shooting was masked by turnovers and a lack of offensive rebounds and free throws. In the second half, the Highlanders kept on shooting and managed to fix all of their first half troubles. The result was one of the worst defensive halves that Michigan has played in years. The Wolverines surrendered a staggering 1.5 points per trip in the final 20 minutes and just couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch.
NJIT’s hot perimeter shooting – 11 of 17 for 65% – made a huge difference, but the Highlanders also out-shot Michigan 55% to 40% on twos. NJIT’s 70.7 eFG% for the game the worst that Michigan surrendered since an 80-61 loss at Indiana on January 15th, 2011
Michigan’s defense struggled to do just about anything other than grab defensive rebounds and then when it mattered most, it couldn’t do that either. The Wolverines were abused defensively in baseline out of bounds sets, backdoor cuts and simple perimeter action. The help defense against NJIT’s dribble-penetration and ball screens was generally absent – Michigan now ranks 292nd in block percentage – and the Highlanders even managed to stop turning the ball over in the second half.
It’s tough to figure out what to make of this Michigan team. The Wolverines lack experience, they lack depth and have major defensive concerns. They also have enough top-end perimeter talent to hang with just about anyone on the country on any given day.
It’s tough to win a game when the opponent shoots 65% from three-point range.
Bad losses happen to good teams in college basketball. That’s no secret. Recent Michigan teams have been able to bounce back from losses to bad teams (Charlotte, at Penn State) and put together very good seasons. Losing to NJIT at home is worse than either of those two defeats, but there are still more than 20 games to play.
It’s tough to win a game when the opponent shoots 65% from three-point range. Michigan’s season isn’t doomed, but this game should serve as the ultimate teaching point for Beilein over the next four months. The Wolverines aren’t good enough to coast through games and there’s no questioning that after this ‘humbling’ home defeat.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert had an average first half, but his offensive wizardry kept Michigan in the game during the tail end of the second half. He hit everything down the stretch from threes off the dribble to mid-range floaters and strong takes to the basket. LeVert scored 25 points on 11 shots in the second half and his final line featured a career-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting (6-8 3pt) with six rebounds, four steals and three turnovers.
- Derrick Walton: Walton really had his mid-range jumper working and finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but his four turnovers were a concern. Several of them were due to lazy post entry passes that were picked off. Michigan rarely throws the ball down low, but seemed focused on trying to establish that element of the game early on.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin just couldn’t find his range, finishing 2-of-11 from the floor and just 1-of-8 from three-point range. If Irvin comes close to his season averages shooting the ball, this is probably a game that Michigan wins easily but he just couldn’t find his range. He had a number of open looks, they just didn’t fall. Irvin has been more aggressive attacking the rim in some other games where his shooting slumped, but that production was lacking today. His biggest play of the game was a late block that setup Michigan’s second to last possession.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman consistently let one mistake turn into two. He was 0-of-6 from the floor and had his shot blocked quite a bit around the basket and in the mid-range. The troubling part of his performance wasn’t just that he missed shots, it was that he usually followed up a bad offensive play with a bad defensive play. Chatman’s freshman season feels a bit like Darius Morris’ at this point where he just hasn’t been able to make the steady adjustment quite yet.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had a nice offensive game with his first three of the year and a nice little hook shot. He finished with 7 points and two rebounds in 15 minutes in one of his better performances of the year.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle scored 2 points and grabbed four rebounds in 25 minutes, snapping his streak of several very good performances in a row. Doyle seemed to get pulled away from the hoop quite a bit and was late helping on several NJIT drives.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht drew a handful of charges, but for one of the first times this season he seemed to really get picked on defensively. He fouled out in 27 minutes and was -5 for the game, the worst of any Michigan players. He also seems to be nursing some sort of finger injury (h/t: Allison Farrand).
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played for less than a minute and was promptly pulled in the first half. It seems clear that Beilein doesn’t quite trust him on the floor, but he admitted it might be time to start. “Maybe it’s my fault (that we don’t have more depth),” Beilein said. “I’ve got to put them in the game to find out. We haven’t seen it in practice, the type of efficiency that would lend to game play yet in a couple of areas. We have to keep working in practice. When I see it in practice, get in there. But it is a thing, we have to develop this bench right now.”