Close losses have been an issue for the Michigan Wolverines all season long, and Saturday’s loss may have been the most brutal. After being up by a few possessions most of the game, the Wolverines didn’t score in the final 5:18, so Indiana’s four points during that stretch was enough to get the win.
“That last five minutes was kind of a blur,” said Hunter Dickinson after the game. “I don’t really know what happened. That was hard to play through. Tough loss.”
When asked about executing down the stretch, Juwan Howard stressed the importance of trusting the coaching staff late in games.
“Organization, that was a big reason why, some of the sets we weren’t able to get into what we were asking from the offensive end, because there were times when the guys want to go ahead and do it how they want to do it, or they see how the defender is playing and feel this is the best way to run a set,” Howard said. “Overall, you just got to trust. You also got to trust what’s being asked and also apply, that’s where I think we got into trouble down the stretch. We (weren’t) able to get to the offense that was called, that’s part of the learning process that players have to get better with.”
Howard said he was calling plays for Dickinson down the stretch.
“Oh, trust me, we were trying to throw the ball into him, I definitely called some sets for him,” Howard said. “Guys at times see how defenders are playing and want to create something that’s not there. Just stick to the script and trust has to be there for 40 minutes.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis, one of the best players in the Big Ten and one of the best big men in college basketball, dominated. The Hoosier scored 28 points, and not being able to consistently stop him near the rim was a big reason for the loss.
“It’s really tough,” Dickinson said when asked about guarding Jackson-Davis. “They use him a lot, he was very active in their offense. They put him in a couple different situations. He’s super athletic, so that creates a tough challenge. Obviously he’s a great player and he had a good night tonight.”
It’s no secret winning this game would have been huge for Michigan’s tournament chances, which are looking pretty slim at this point. Combine that with the fact Michigan hasn’t been able to close games against ranked teams all year (0-4 against top 25 teams), and it made for a pretty somber press conference with Dickinson.
“It is extremely unfortunate that we weren’t able to capitalize on this,” Dickinson said. “This was a great opportunity for us, great opportunity to build our resume. We need a lot of help to make the tournament, and this was a great opportunity that slipped through our fingers. I feel like that’s the moral of the season so far, not capitalizing on those opportunities that we get, and it starts with me as the captain on the team. I need to do better.”
The Wolverines entered this game on a three-game winning streak and finally seemed like they had built some momentum, but Dickinson said that that momentum is pretty much completely gone.
“The progress almost got erased with this loss right here,” Dickinson said. “We’re probably back to the drawing board, and I’d say we only have like one more of these left to use up when it comes to making the tournament. I think the progress got a little erased out there. We got a lot of work to do to build back that momentum we had in the game, try to get it back in practice.”
Howard disagreed with the starting center, as he preached the progress this young team has made. He also mentioned a legendary Michigan team who performed well with a lot of young players, and emphasized that most great teams aren’t built overnight — even though the Wolverines have basically run out of time to be a great team.
“This team has definitely gotten better,” Howard said. “You have 10 new guys on the team, and the boatload of players that are going to get the boatload of the minutes are young freshman. It takes time, there’s only one Fab Five. (With freshman) We will not see that. again. It’s a different type of mindset. I’m not asking for the Fab Five to come in here and save us, that’s not the point I’m trying to make either.”
“It takes time as the season progresses that you’ll see guys improving,” Howard continued. “That’s because of the work they put in and the game starting to slow down and trust and execution and just the effort. But then when you have new ways, offensively and defensively, it doesn’t happen overnight. I commend our players for putting in the work and believing. At the end of the day, I trust that we will continue to stay tight and still have the trust. We have six losses, eight wins, and we’ll keep plugging away, because there’s a lot of season left.”