Michigan closed its third game in three days with an 11-0 run to escape the Lahaina Civic Center with a 68-60 win over VCU.
The Wolverines gave away an 11-point lead, turned the ball over 9 times in the second half and missed 9 free throws, but they still figured out how to erase a three-point deficit with 2 minutes to play. In short, they made the winning plays that they failed to make on Monday night.
Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman stepped up down the stretch. The duo scored the final 11 points of the game after combining for just 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting in the first 38 minutes of the game.
Michigan’s offense managed 1.07 points per possession, but the second half execution left much to be desired. Michigan only made 5 threes in the game and didn’t make a three in the second half until the final 2 minutes. In a 33 possession second half, the Wolverines scored 11 points in the final three possessions and 21 in the first 30.
The Wolverines got sped up by VCU’s switch from man-to-man pressure to its vintage diamond zone full court press in the second half. Beilein noted after the game that it wasn’t always the press that forced turnovers as much as the decision making after breaking the press.
On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Michigan made 20-of-33 two-point attempts (61%) and was able to find just enough easy baskets in transition (16 fast break points) and inside (40 points in the paint) to keep the offense going. Michigan would have been even more effective inside if it could make free throws, but it was just 13-of-22 at the line.
Defensively, this was a strong performance overall against a VCU team that had played well offensively. Michigan closed the game with three consecutive stops and held the Rams to .94 points per possession on the day. The Wolverines’ blanked VCU’s transition game and didn’t allow a single fastbreak point after the Rams had scored 29 the night before against Cal.
The Wolverines did a great job of running shooters off the line and held VCU to just 3-of-11 three-point shooting. The only three that VCU made in the second half came because Beilein tried to signal for a switch between Eli Brooks and Duncan Robinson and only one of them saw it. Defensive rebounding was another pregame key and the Rams only rebounded 24% of their misses for 8 second chance points — their worst offensive rebounding game of the season.
Another impressive defensive stat? VCU only made 6 assisted baskets all game.
This team still has a long way to go, and many of the same pre-Tournament questions to answer, but those questions will be easier to answer leaving Maui with two wins rather than just one.
The point guard position is still up for grabs and no clear answer has emerged. Zavier Simpson lost his starting spot after the opener and then was on the floor for the final 6 minutes of today’s win. Eli Brooks brings flow to the offense, but can he defend and is he ready to be the starting lead guard? Jaaron Simmons didn’t even see the floor in the second half.
The Wolverines also still need to find trusted options off the bench other than Jon Teske. Three starters played at least 33 minutes today, with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman logging 40, despite the fact that this was the third game in as many days. Bench options other than Teske combined for just 9 minutes, 4 points, 2 assists and 3 turnovers — that’s not enough.
Michigan will fly back from Maui over the next two days, with part of the group flying tonight and the rest on Thanksgiving, and prepare for a Sunday afternoon game against UC Riverside before heading to North Carolina for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
- Zavier Simpson: It was Simpson’s turn to close a game and he got the job done. Beilein left him in the game because of his ability to guard LSU point guard Johnathan Williams and he forced a game changing turnover with a little over a minute to play and then found Wagner for three-pointer that iced the game away. Simpson’s scoring is still an issue and he was bailed out from a poor decision to pass the ball ahead to Wagner late, but his defense kept him on the floor.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner battled foul trouble all afternoon and it looked like a game where he was never going to get back on track. He came back into the game with four fouls and missed a three and turned the ball over down low with the game in the balance, then he made two of the biggest plays all night: a driving and-one layup and a three to put the game away.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: In a game with a number of big shots, Abdur-Rahkman hit the biggest. He got the ball out of a baseline out of bounds, pump faked once and then fired in a three to tie the game with 1:48 to play. He’d been battling it all night (he was just 3-of-10 from the floor before that shot), but Michigan needed that make. He also had a team-high four assists in the game and Beilein praised his passing improvement after the win.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews seemed to be battling cramps throughout the second half (his thigh seemed to be bothering him all week) and it clearly affected his free throw stroke (3-of-8), but his ability to get to the basket — both in the half court and in transition — is a real weapon that Michigan hasn’t had in a while. I thought this was one of the better passing performances by Matthews this season with 3 assists including a couple of great looks for layups. He’s been the biggest revelation this week in Maui and looks the part of a go-to scoring option moving forward.
- Jon Teske: Teske played 16 minutes and finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. His rim protection is something that no one else on the roster can provide and he’s doing a really good job of staying straight up, playing strong and deterring shots at the basket. He may have only been credited with two blocks, but he affected countless others. Offensively, he was effective around the basket rolling and finishing (3-of-4) but the 2-of-5 free throw shooting is troubling.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was 5-of-5 on two-pointers and 2-of-8 on three-pointers — a rare sight for the 6-foot-8 senior. He found himself mismatched with Khris Lane, a 245 pound forward, and used his quickness advantage to his advantage. Usually Robinson falls on the other side of that equation, but on a night when the three wasn’t falling he made some huge plays attacking the rim.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks scored 5 points and had an assist in 23 minutes. He didn’t turn the ball over against VCU’s press, but he also struggled to keep VCU’s guards in front. Brooks has been billed as a shooter, but Michigan is going to need his three-point shot to start falling if he’s going to be the long-term option at the point guard position.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons played only two minutes and didn’t see the floor in the second half. At this point, I don’t have an explanation. He was clearly a better player than this on film at Ohio, even adjusting for playing in the MAC, and right now he just seems to lack any confidence to make plays when he’s on the floor.
- Jordan Poole: It looked like Michigan put Poole in specifically to be a shooting option on a baseline out of bounds set and then sat him done when he didn’t end up attempting the shot.
- Ibi Watson: Watson was called into second half action with Matthews being treated on the bench, but he immediately turned the ball over on a wild drive. After that turnover, Beilein took him out of the game and moved Abdur-Rahkman to the three alongside two point guards (Brooks and Simpson).
- Isaiah Livers: Livers played four minutes and only one in the second half. He got a quick hook after he attempted to throw a lob to Wagner in transition that ended up stuck between a shot and a pass — also called a turnover.