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Michigan struggles defensively in 80-76 loss to North Carolina

The familiar struggles continue to fester for this Michigan squad.

NCAA Basketball: Jumpman Invitational-Michigan at North Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

In the last of the Michigan Wolverines’ neutral-site games for the 2022-23 season, they couldn’t capitalize on a first-half lead and ultimately fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels by a score of 80-76.

Here’s how it all went down.

First half

Despite the Tar Heels jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the opening two minutes, Michigan went on a hot streak of its own to force a 9-9 stalemate headed into the first media timeout. From there, the Wolverines controlled the rhythm for much of the first half, leading by as much as eight points before UNC pulled it back to within two scores in the eighth minute.

Ultimately, Michigan couldn’t hold onto the advantage, as the Tar Heels went on a 18-4 run in the final six minutes to both flip the lead and extend it to as much as nine points. Though the Wolverines were able to break a three minute scoring drought before halftime, it did little to alleviate their deficit, as the score sat at 41-34 towards UNC headed into halftime.

Statistically, Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard led Michigan in scoring at the half with 10 points each. Terrence Williams II was far and away the rebounds leader at halftime, with eight rebounds to Tarris Reed’s four.

Second half

The Wolverines kept the opening minutes a back and forth affair in the opening sequence of the second half, but it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the game as the Tar Heels kept the margin firmly at seven points for almost eight minutes of game clock. A three-pointer from Bufkin and a tip-in by Howard appeared to finally shake the momentum, but North Carolina staved Michigan off from coming closer than four points headed into the home stretch.

With the clock ticking ever further out of their favor, the Wolverines staged one last attempt at taking the lead, as a pair of three pointers from Joey Baker and Williams II got them just two points away from the lead. In shades of the Virginia game earlier this year, however, the comeback bid came up short, as all-too-familiar defensive struggles couldn’t open a pathway to victory.

Despite fouling out in the final seconds, Bufkin finished as the scoring leader for the Wolverines with 22 points. Williams II retained his lead in rebounds through the second half, notching 10 boards on the night.

What’s next

The Wolverines are off for a brief break during the holidays, but will resume their season at Crisler Center on Dec. 29, when they play Central Michigan.