ANAHEIM, Calif. — There’s defense, and then there is what transpired between Michigan and Texas Tech for 40 minutes in Anaheim Thursday night. The hype of the two top defenses in the country facing off filled headlines over much of the four days leading up to the game.
Somehow, all that hype was an understatement. Michigan and Texas Tech combined for just 40 points and both teams shot under 35 percent through one half of play in Anaheim. Michigan’s 16 points were the Wolverines lowest in NCAA Tournament history, the previous low being 18 in the second half against Holy Cross in 1948.
It couldn’t possibly get worse with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line and a date with Gonzaga awaiting the winner of such a slugfest.
Michigan tried to find a rhythm to open the second half, the Wolverines drew up some decent plays that led to good looks, instead, Jon Teske missed two free throws, Charles Matthews air-balled a three-point attempt, and Texas Tech ran its lead to 13 when Davide Moretti hit a three-pointer to make it 34-16 Red Raiders.
That was the dagger with 17:04 left to play at Honda Center.
Michigan fell to Texas Tech 63-44 to see its season come to an end in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. The offense never showed up outside of a strong individual effort from Ignas Brazdeikis (17 points, 13 rebounds) to log his third double-double of the season. It took C.J Baird hitting a three-pointer (Michigan’s final basket of the game) with less than one minute left to ensure the Wolverines finished 1-19 from beyond the arc, their 232nd consecutive game making at least one triple.
“Coach Yak said it was a bad day to have a bad day,” said Jon Teske (4 points, 4 rebounds) “They’re a very good team so give credit to them, and they outplayed us tonight.”
“There’s gonna be an NIT team that wins it all, and an NCAA (tournament) team that wins it all, everybody else is gonna be in tears,” said Jordan Poole (6 points, 3 assists) “Every team but two teams goes through this, it happens, we signed up for this when we were little kids. It comes with the game of basketball.”
Despite suffering the worst NCAA tournament loss of the Beilein era (Michigan’s previous largest loss was to Villanova in the 2018 National Championship, 79-62) the players were insightful and understood that a Sweet 16 loss would not erase everything Michigan accomplished over the last six months.
“You can’t shame the fact that we won seventeen games in a row,” said Poole. “Or that we had a top two defense in the country, we won thirty games in a season.”
“So frustrating” replied Isaiah Livers (3 rebounds) “Especially when you have a great game plan, you go out try to execute it, and it seems like they just all took their game plan that we were preparing for and they just did a really good job. They made all the shots that we didn’t, they made all the passes that we didn’t, and you just gotta tip your hat to them.”
“I think it’s just mental errors, I mean sometimes I know people can overthink things and it turns into errors and just second-guessing yourself. We just didn’t play our basketball, we didn’t play Michigan basketball the way we have been playing all season.”
“The message to the team right now is don’t let that game define your season,” John Beilein told reporters. Beilein went on to explain that the team felt helpless during stretches where the shots would not fall. “It was for moments,” Beilein said of helplessness. “If you look at synergy, we’re not a great isolation team, and we’re not a team that can score one on one.”
“If there is a positive in today’s loss, it’s that they know that there’s other good teams out there and other good players. They have to continue to work and get better and just get better at everything mentally and physically about the game,” Beilein continued.
The Wolverines will use this loss as fuel going into 2019. With only Charles Matthews expected to depart (there is always the possibility of a transfer or two as well,) Michigan returns most of its core. The players won’t soon forget a disappointing night in Anaheim, but will rally together as a family as they chase the Big Ten and National Championships once again.
“I am so proud, I love every last guy in here to a tee, managers too,” said Livers. “We just worked so hard and just the emotions are high because we were four games away, we were just so close to getting back to where we were last year and I just knew how bad everyone wanted it. I like to see emotion after a loss because it shows how much guys care, it’s a good time to see who cares. It’s great to have family and have a brotherhood.”
For Michigan, that brotherhood and bond can only grow stronger with another offseason for a young team, and the Wolverines will start the process all over again next fall.
Video Recap from Anaheim. #Michigan couldn't find specific answers why shots did not fall Thursday night, but won't let the Texas Tech loss define the season. #MarchMadness WATCH: pic.twitter.com/Qc1EUryiQD
— Jay Sarkar (@ByJaySarkar) March 29, 2019