Ann Arbor — Poor outside shooting. A flat start out of the break and a lack of stops after halftime. A 21-point second-half outburst from Minnesota’s Jamison Battle.
Add it all up and it was too much for Michigan to overcome Saturday at Crisler Center in a 75-65 loss that left coach Juwan Howard lamenting the Wolverines’ defensive performance.
“When a team (shoots) 62% in the second half and also scores 43 points in the second half…you’ve got to look at the defensive end,” Howard said. “That right there was not a (good) defensive effort. I felt that we could have done much, much better job for 40 minutes.
“We can’t have those moments where we have good possessions when we defend and then not defend for five or six possessions. There was just too much inconsistency today.”
Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones scored 14 and fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks added 12 points for Michigan (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten), which shot 16.7% from 3-point range (3-for-18) and forced just four turnovers.
After a tight first half, Minnesota came out swinging after the break while Michigan stumbled. The Golden Gophers punched the Wolverines right in the mouth and rattled off a 15-4 run that featured back-to-back 3-pointers by Battle and Luke Loewe (14 points) to grab a 47-40 lead with 14:48 remaining.
Jones was Michigan’s sole source of offense over the first eight minutes of the half. He made the Wolverines’ first four baskets, including a pair of buckets in the paint on back-to-back possessions that cut the deficit to 47-44 at the 14:05 mark.
Minnesota pushed the lead to eight before someone other than Jones made a basket. Brooks drained a 3-pointer — Michigan’s second of the game — to pull the Wolverines within 53-48 with 11:08 remaining.
But as the Wolverines struggled to score, they had an even tougher time getting stops and staying in front of their man. They also had no answer for Battle, who torched the defense. He scored a couple baskets in the paint and knocked down a jumper during an 11-0 flurry that put the Wolverines in a 66-50 hole at the 6:22 mark.
“Battle made some tough shots,” Howard said. “We know that he’s a very good 3-point shooter, but the in second half it was mainly just pull-up jumpers, mid-range where we didn’t make anything challenging for him at all. He was just too comfortable in the second half.”
Added Dickinson: “I think sometimes we just weren’t locked in defensively. It’s not all on the guy guarding the ball. I think in the back end we need to be better with our low man and protecting the rim a little bit better.”
Michigan switched to a zone defense that stalled Minnesota and helped spark a 10-0 run that Dickinson ended with a three-point play, cutting the deficit to 66-60 with 3:55 to play.
However, the Wolverines failed to take advantage of their chances to further chop down the Gophers’ lead, coming up empty after forcing a pair of 10-second violations and watching Minnesota miss the front end of a one-and-one.
“We’ve got to be able to do a better job of having more consistency throughout (the game), not just during the stretch when you’re trying to fight back in it,” Howard said. “(We need to) have that type of defensive disposition for 40 minutes.”
Michigan could never pull closer than six the rest of the way as it turned the ball over twice in the final 1:15 and Battle and Payton Willis (17 points) combined for seven free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Battle finished with 27 points and E.J. Stephens scored 13 for Minnesota (8-1, 1-1), which shot 50.9% from the field (29-for-57), including a blistering 64% (16-for-25) in the second half, and had just two assists.
“This is obviously a big one on the road,” Minnesota coach Ben Johnson said. “I thought it was a total team effort. …Our guys showed toughness, resolve, aggressiveness.
“We did a great job taking care of the ball. We got back to our defense and they shot under 20% from 3, which we talked about as being key.”
Freshman forward Moussa Diabate was back in the starting lineup for Michigan after missing the game at Nebraska and much of the San Diego State contest with a non-COVID illness. He finished with seven points and 13 rebounds.
In the first half, Dickinson got off to a quick start and showed off his shooting stroke. He knocked down a contested jumper along the baseline and a pair of mid-range shots, with the last two coming during a 7-0 spurt that gave Michigan a 13-7 lead with 14:05 left.
Minnesota made just five of its first 15 shots, but a mixture of poor passes, missed free throws and empty possessions by Michigan allowed the Golden Gophers to chip away at the deficit and even it at 19 at the 8:42 mark.
That started a back-and-forth finish to the half that saw Minnesota regain a two-point lead twice before Dickinson kept feasting. He scored a pair of second-chance buckets and found Diabate for a short hook to give Michigan a 36-32 halftime lead that it ultimately couldn’t hold against a Minnesota team that was picked to finish last in the conference’s preseason media poll.
“Coach said in the locker room this was a good wake-up call for us to realize how good the Big Ten is and how hard it is to get a win,” Dickinson said. “There’s no off nights. You have to bring it each and every night or anybody in the Big Ten can beat you.”