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Michigan basketball’s struggles in the clutch prove costly

The Wolverines have lost a few tight games this season which have vacated some potential wins.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can be said about the struggles of the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball program right now. They have hit rock bottom in a season that looked extremely promising in its early moments with their fourth-straight loss and now an 11-8 record on the season.

In a season like this, every game is important as the Wolverines are scratching and clawing for an NCAA Tournament bid in a ridiculously deep Big Ten Conference. However, we have seen this Michigan team give up quite a few games with poor performances in the waning moments.

The first came against the No. 10 ranked Oregon Ducks at home earlier in the season. The Wolverines missed five of their final six shots, and failed to convert on two free throws in the last two minutes of overtime as they fell to Oregon 71-70.

There can be a bit of a pass on this one right? It was a top-10 opponent coming into Ann Arbor with a first-year head coach at the helm, and a couple of buckets just didn’t fall. Games like that are lost by good teams every season.

But in this stretch of four losses in a row by Michigan, they have had three very winnable games slip out of their finger tips.

With just 3:22 left in the game against Minnesota, Michigan led 65-64 and this one was going down to the wire as Golden Gophers Center Daniel Oturu was dominating the ballgame and the Wolverines kept up with his point production. That is, until the final moments of the game.

Minnesota finished the game on a 11-2 run as the Wolverines committed three-straight turnovers and missed several shots. The irony is that the Golden Gophers didn’t convert on their free throws either, but had four offensive rebounds to keep possession in the last minute and a half of the game, giving the Wolverines even less of a chance to forge a comeback.

The very next game the Wolverines headed to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes whom they had beaten in Ann Arbor earlier in the year. This conclusion of this game is probably the most frustrating of the entire season.

Michigan found themselves up 74-68 with just under 8 minutes remaining in the game. Then, out of no where, their offense just disappeared as they scored only 9 points the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Iowa Center Luke Garza scored 9 of his 33 in the same time frame as the Hawkeyes went on a 22-9 run.

Michigan chucked up seven three-pointers in the final minutes and only hit one of them as they went ice cold from the floor. The result was a 90-83 loss in Iowa City.

Last, but certainly not least was the most recent game against Illinois. Once again, this Michigan offense was neutralized in the last moments of a huge game, the difference this time was that so was the Fighting Illini’s. The two teams combined for 11 points in the last 5:30 of the game. There was a two minutes scoring drought as neither team wanted to win the game.

Potentially the most costly was the Wolverines 0-for-5 shooting from the free throw line with time expiring. Michigan’s final bucket was a David DeJulius jumper with 2:30 to play.

Unlike the Wolverines, Illinois converted two huge free throw to tie the game with under a minute to play. Then, Jon Teske clunked a shot off the rim with just enough time for Ayo Dosunmu to hit an amazing shot with good defense by Zavier Simpson to win the game at the buzzer.

It’s very safe to say that this Michigan team is in a completely different place if their offense wasn’t stagnant as they closed some of these games. Whether it be turnovers, free throw troubles, or a lack of consistency shooting the ball, the Wolverines have done an excellent job of finding ways to lose games this season. These four games have changed the narrative of the season as a whole as they now sit at 11-8 when in reality, it could just as easily be 15-4.

There is no time left to waste this season, if they want to keep hopes of an NCAA tournament alive, they must capitalize in these game-defining moments and win a lot of basketball games down the stretch.