I feel like watching that game took years off my life.
After what was quite possibly the sloppiest first half of the season, the Michigan Wolverines made enough winning plays in the second half to secure the victory against Nebraska, winning 85-79.
Giving up 79 points to a team who has yet to earn a conference win halfway through the season is pretty inexcusable. The offense wasn’t much better, but a win’s a win.
Here are a few takeaways.
A tale of two halves
With Hunter Dickinson on the bench for the majority of the first half, Michigan looked like a whole different team, unable to buy a bucket while also giving up so many shots inside to the Cornhuskers.
Freshman guard Bryce McGowens started cooking in that first half and never looked back, as the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week has now scored 96 points over his past four games, including 24 in this one.
That was a rather lethargic half of basketball for the Wolverines, whose main source of points came from free throws off a few ticky-tack fouls from Big Ten refs who refuse to let a game breathe.
Thankfully Michigan was able to wake up in that second half, kicking it off with a 16-2 run sparked by Dickinson. He could do whatever he wanted in the post (26 points, eight rebounds, 10-of-15 shooting) and grabbed a few key offensive rebounds to keep the good times rolling. He really made a defensive impact too, getting two quick blocks and providing the paint presence Michigan so badly needed.
As soon as he left the game again, Nebraska went straight to the basket and came really close to earning its first win in Ann Arbor ever.
Forget the offensive struggles the Wolverines have had all season — while they did get key stops down the stretch, the defense they played in this game was inexcusable. Terrible closeouts, a lack of communication, no paint presence without Dickinson; there are high school teams in this state that could have gotten buckets on the Wolverines in that game.
Michigan ultimately did just enough down the stretch to win this one, but need to improve defensively to have a shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament.
All hail the Professor
While Dickinson provided Michigan with the spark they needed in the start of that second half, the steady hand of Eli Brooks in the last stretch of this game iced this one for the Wolverines.
Can you imagine if Eli didn't come back for one more year? Me neither.— Von Lozon (@von_lozon) February 2, 2022
After a quiet last few games, it was a truly masterful performance from Brooks. While he did get the friendly roll on a few jumpers, he played clutch defense and seemed to be the only Wolverine constantly communicating on both sides of the floor.
That communication is crucial for a young team like Michigan, who relied on Brooks’ consistency from the free throw line (7-for-8 from the strike) and steady hand down the stretch (nine of his 20 points came in the final seven minutes).
Brooks wasn’t the only senior who helped give Michigan’s offense a pulse, as DeVante’ Jones had a few important buckets in that first half to keep the game close. His textbook two-man game with Dickinson led to the biggest basket of the game, with Jones scoring a layup with 2:05 left and help secure the victory.
As I’ve covered before, Michigan’s biggest offensive problem early in the year — which sadly still persists in the month of February — was Dickinson and Brooks were the only guys who could consistently create their own shot and be relied upon to get double digit points. That duo really did their part in this one and while Jones was able to pick up the slack at times, Michigan needs to get more out of it’s role players to avoid offensive lapses.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Wolverines from here, as they’ll have four games over the next 10 days. If they want to stay in tournament conversation, they’ll need to play nearly perfect basketball in these matchups:
-@ Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. (FOX)
-@ Penn State, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 9 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
-Home vs Purdue, Thursday, Feb. 10 (makeup game, ESPN/ESPN2)
-Home vs Ohio State, Saturday, Feb. 12 (ESPN/ESPN2)