After breezing through a pair of laughers and with a 9 day holiday break on the horizon, Michigan was caught in a trap game on Thursday night.
Furman didn’t care about Big Ten play, Christmas or the Crisler Center crowd. This was a team that had already won four road games this season and hadn’t lost a game by more than 6 points. The Paladins might not be a great team, but they came into the Crisler Center with a plan to not beat themselves and they executed it.
Furman slowed the game down to a crawl (25 first half possessions) and executed well with a small ball lineup. As much as Michigan might have hoped, there was no chance of Christmas break starting early. The first half went back and forth at a snail’s pace before Michigan pulled away with a narrow 6 point half time lead. The Paladins immediately opened the second half with an 11-0 run of their own and never went away.
At first glance, it’s easy to call the Paladins an unlucky team this season after they’ve lost 6 games by 6 points or fewer. On the other hand, their defensive strategy of forcing teams into such a high volume of three-pointers and having them all miss seems like it will run out eventually. Teams are shooting just 29.6% (28th) from three against Furman, but attempt 39.7% of their shots from distance (277th).
On Thursday night, Michigan attempted 36% of its field goals from three-point range, but could barely will one into the basket. U-M went almost the entire second half without making a three, missing its first 12, before Derrick Walton sealed the game with a nice jab step triple. The Wolverines were due for a cold night from three after shooting so well for the past three games, but it will be tough to win many more games this season going just 4-of-20 from long distance.
The Wolverines did other things well offensively. They didn’t turn the ball over, they made their twos and they got to the free throw line (making all of 16 attempts). This ended up as almost an average offensive night for Michigan (1.14 PPP) despite such terrible three-point shooting and that’s an encouraging sign for when the threes do fall.
Michigan made some critical plays defensively down the stretch, but there were also a lot of defensive red flags heading into Big Ten play. The biggest concern will be just how effective Furman was attacking the basket, both in transition and half court. The Paladins shot 61% on twos and got to the free throw line 16 times.
The numbers corrected over time, but there were also some really bad defensive rebounding moments for the Wolverines. Furman didn’t have a starter over 6-foot-6, and was one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, but got a number of frustrating long rebounds and second chances off of missed shots. The Paladins’ undoing was the turnover. They gave the ball away on 22.4% of their offensive possessions and Michigan turned those 13 giveaways into 23 points.
This is only the third time that Michigan has allowed an opponent to score over a point per possession (VTech, UCLA) and that’s not the best way to finish the non-conference slate.
A bit of a wakeup call might not be the worst thing for the Wolverines heading into a long layover. Big Ten games aren’t going to come this easy and the Iowa team that Michigan will face on New Year’s Day is looking at a 5 game winning streak and has turned things around after a dreadful 3-5 start.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin couldn’t buy a three and missed a couple of late mid-range jumpers, but he also hit a pair of critical late shots and played a good all around game. The senior guard tallied 7 assists to 1 turnover and had a number of great high passes to Michigan’s big men rolling to the hoop. Irvin also did a good job of driving for the first two-thirds of the game, getting the basket and the free throw line. I didn’t think the late elbow jumpers were necessarily bad looks as he attacked the switch, because he hits that right elbow jumper at 45%. I also think Irvin deserves some credit for a few bright moments defensively, praise that I haven’t doled out to him often.
- Moritz Wagner: At this point, I think Wagner plays better against more traditional bigs. He had some leverage issues against the shorter and stronger Kris Acox and missed a handful of bunnies at the rim despite Furman lacking a shot blocking threat. He hit his first triple on the night, but kind of fell in love with the long distance shot and finished 1-of-5 from deep. I know people are screaming for Wagner to get more touches, but he led the team in shots tonight in 28 minutes. He’s leading the team in usage rate and used 36% of Michigan’s possessions on the night. He also led the team in scoring despite missing several shots he’ll want back. At this point he’s a critical cog in Michigan’s offense and they’ve proven that they need his scoring.
- Derrick Walton: Walton hit the dagger three off the jab step late, but he also had a couple of nice takes to the rim in the second half. He had a ridiculous layup in transition through a foul and then a nice bank shot from the right. He wasn’t very involved distributing (1 assist), but this was a solid showing with some big time late shots from the senior point guard.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson has slowly been rounding into form and played another very good game off the bench. He had some really nice passes (4 assists) and was as aggressive and effective as I’ve ever seen him when he attacked the rim. Robinson was 2-of-3 inside the arc and 1-of-3 from outside in an impressive 28 minutes.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson scored 7 points on 2-of-5 shooting and grabbed 3 rebounds in a quiet 32 minute performance. He needs to continue to get stronger with the ball when he has two hands on a rebound as he got one stripped away late tonight. He also is still figuring out how to deal with guarding significantly shorter players on the perimeter.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal scored 6 points and grabbed three rebounds in 11 minutes. He showed some good chemistry with Irvin in the pick-and-roll game and also hit a big time mid-range jumper in the second half that the Wolverines needed.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman isn’t giving Michigan a whole lot and at this point I think that the staff may need to look at replacing him in the lineup with Duncan Robinson. Abdur-Rahkman went scoreless, missing 3 shot attempts,
- Xavier Simpson: He didn’t make many glaring mistakes when he was on the floor for 5 minutes, but he didn’t do anything to stand out either.