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Juwan Howard discusses late game struggles after Minnesota loss, playing Penn State at The Palestra

“I know our guys are hurting so bad,” Howard said after the loss.

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Regarding close games, it feels like the Michigan Wolverines are living in Groundhog’s Day. After a promising first half and start to the second half, the Wolverines struggled to get stops and went on an untimely dry spell late to fall to Minnesota Thursday night, 73-71.

This is a pattern we’ve seen from the Wolverines over the last few seasons, but it’s painfully clear Michigan still hasn’t figured out how to win a close game. The offense late in games is broken, and the Wolverines are 1-5 in games decided by six points or less this season.

Head coach Juwan Howard told reporters after the game these close losses take a toll on the players.

“I know our guys are hurting so bad,” Howard said when asked about the added frustration of being so close in so many games. “Seems like it’s looking like the same pattern as last season, when you’re right there, one or two possessions losing.”

Howard preached the importance of the team staying positive, acknowledging the slump they are on while also emphasizing the grind that is the Big Ten schedule.

“At the end of the day, no one is going to feel sorry for us,” Howard continued, after listing the other close losses this season, including Memphis, Oregon, Indiana, and Florida. “We can’t feel sorry and have a pity party for ourselves, we got to fix it — and we will, and I trust we will. Most important, and it starts with this, is staying positive. We will get out of this funk that we’re in, and we know we’re in a very competitive stretch in our schedule — that’s what the Big Ten conference is all about. It’s going to reveal if we’re competitors.”

Playing at The Palestra

Michigan doesn’t have much time to figure out its late game problems, as the Big Ten schedule keeps chugging along. The Wolverines face the Penn State Nittany Lions on Sunday at The Palestra, a Philadelphia cornerstone that is now the oldest major college arena still in use.

Howard discussed the plan to play at the historic venue last season, but he told the media Wednesday afternoon it wasn’t all his idea. Former Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry, whose now the head coach at Notre Dame, approached Howard about it, and Howard said “a light bulb went off.”

A game at the Palestra certainly means a lot for a certain member of Michigan’s coaching staff.

“His thinking was, and I’m not going to take ownership for it, that ‘it would be good for the old man’, that’s the word he used,” Howard said, referring to Philadelphia native and Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli. “I thought that this would be a great game for us to play at the Palestra, a very historic place. Coach Martelli has always talked about the Palestra and how special it is — this is a no-brainer, I would do this for my guy.”

Martelli, who Howard said is “a legend on the East Coast,” coached at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, starting as an assistant in 1985 and serving as head coach for 24 seasons before coming to Michigan. Martelli will likely have a lot of loved ones at the game, as Michigan hopes to get its season back on track.