The Michigan Wolverines were tested at home Thursday night, battling against the No. 1 team in the country and coming up short, losing to the Purdue Boilermakers, 75-70.
This is the seventh loss of the season by six points or less. The team is clearly annoyed by the fact they keep losing by a small margin, and they are cognizant they need to be better closing out games.
“Definitely felt like another one of those frustrating losses where just a couple more bounces here and there, a couple timely threes that they hit that if they didn’t go in, we could be sitting with a W right now,” said Michigan center Hunter Dickinson. “We feel like we played good enough to win. In the end, they just made a couple more plays than us.”
There is no such thing as a moral victory, but there are some positives to take away from only losing by two possessions to one of the best teams in the country. Dickinson is still confident in the team’s abilities, but he said they have to improve defensively and close out games better if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
“I would say it’s reassurance that we’re a really good team,” Dickinson said. “The record might not say it, the wins and losses definitely might not say it, but if you actually look into the games and not into the box scores, you would see that we’re a really good team that can’t finish games. If we want to make this tournament and make a run, that’s something we’re going to have to change.”
When asked about finishing these close games, head coach Juwan Howard said one of the biggest differences between this team and ones of the past is how much this team relies on it’s younger players.
“Some of those teams that we’ve had, we’ve had experience as well,” Howard said. “This year we have freshmen — and they’re competing and they will continue to keep competing. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, we’re going to stay positive and remain positive.”
With an 11-9 record and no Quad 1 wins to their name, the Wolverines are on the outside looking in when it comes to March Madness. They still have time to turn things around, but they’re going to have to do it quickly.
“It’s not even February yet, we just know we have to put together wins moving forward,” said Joey Baker. “Just one game at a time — we’re going to focus on Sunday. We’ll take a look at some of things we got to get better at from today, but we got to look at Sunday. We play a really good team, we play a lot of really good teams, we’ll have our opportunities.”
For the first time this season, Michigan was without standout freshman Jett Howard, who was sidelined after leaving the win over Minnesota Sunday with an ankle injury. Howard said Jett has been working with team athletic trainer Chris Williams and has been doing treatment a few times a day, but he was a late scratch in this one.
“It’s always hard with Jett, man” Howard said. “This is not our first time where he’s been injured and Jett has played while injured or forced himself to play. That’s how he’s wired, he’s a competitor, he’s tough as nails and he’s also a Howard. Tonight, he wasn’t healthy enough to go. Looking at the big scope of things, health is important.”
Health has been something this team has struggled with all season long, with Jaelin Llewellyn being out for the year due to a torn ACL sustained in the Kentucky loss, freshman Youssef Khayat also being hurt, Jace Howard’s concussion, and now Jett’s injury. This is a team that’s been through a lot this season, and Howard said these hardships are only going to make this young squad stronger.
“(We’re) competitors, man.” Howard said. “You see this team having that mindset with so many built-in excuses throughout this year. Let’s first start with the injuries: Jaelin (Llewellyn) is out, and then we had Dug (McDaniel) step up. You find that Jace is out. Yo-Yo (Youssef Khayat), he’s injured, he’s out. Those are the things that you try and pray and hope that you can avoid throughout the season. At times you got to dig deep, learn from that adversity and keep building off it.
“That’s why I’m proud of this group. All the adversity we’ve faced, we still haven’t given up, we still haven’t lost hope. We’re still going to remain positive and keep competing each game.”