The Wolverine

April 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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26 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2019 BY CHRIS BALAS W hat could have been a spe- cial season for the Michi- gan basketball team still had the potential to be in March. If the Wolverines were going to hang a banner for the third straight year, though, it was going to have to come in the NCAA Tournament. U-M finished the regular season a remarkable 26-5, losing the Big Ten championship on the last day of the regular season in a setback at Michi- gan State. The Wolverines broke a record by winning their ninth consecutive Big Ten Tournament game March 15 in hammering Iowa and made it 10 a day later with a blowout of Minne- sota, but the Spartans got them again in the final March 17, coming back from a double-digit deficit to do it — the same way they did in East Lan- sing just a week earlier. Michigan led by 12 points in the first half and eight at the half, but didn't get the breaks or the bounces in falling 65-60. The Spartans scored the last 10 points of the game to steal the game and another title from their rivals. "They are just a bad matchup for us," Michigan head coach John Beilein said in the postgame. "We've had three games with them, and we've led in the second half three games. "But in the things that really matter at times throughout the whole game, they beat us in some of those intan- gibles and they win." This one, though, wasn't without some controversy. U-M was down three with 10 seconds remaining and MSU had fouls to give when sopho- more shooting guard Jordan Poole attempted to shoot a triple before be- ing intentionally fouled by Spartans junior point guard Cassius Winston. It was a smart play in theory — getting a shot up while being fouled instead of before — and Winston did his part in shoving Poole with both hands just before Poole let go of the ball. The officials, however, didn't do theirs. There was no call on the play, the ball went out of bounds on the errant shot and the Spartans closed it out from the line. It was a bitter ending in that the Wolverines did a solid job on Win- ston, who had been the guy leading the charge in the first two wins over Michigan. This time MSU senior Matt McQuaid, a Texan who once coveted a Michigan offer (but didn't get it), had the game of his life, making seven triples and scoring 27 points in the 65- 60 Michigan State win. "They really are a more efficient team than we are," Beilein said. "You've got to maximize your posses- sions. Just four or five possessions are critical to win a championship game. "I love the way we fought hard. We stayed in there, and we kept our poise for the most part. But it wasn't good enough to win it." Especially with McQuaid doing his Steph Curry impression. "We were trying to give help," Beilein said. "It's an interesting con- cept. You've got one of the best pass- ers in the country, got a great big man that can really roll to the basket [in Xavier Tillman] and catch everything, and they catch you in some action where you've got to find one or the other. "And Matt's a really good shooter. We probably had to close out with more length and quicker." A dejected Poole retreated quickly to the showers in the postgame, but his teammates stood up for him in the postgame locker room. "That's not the reason why we lost at all," freshman forward Ignas Braz- deikis said. "We have his back," sophomore guard Eli Brooks added. "There weren't one or two plays that cost us the game." PROGRESS MADE Despite the disappointing finish against the Spartans, the Wolverines played well in Chicago. They found their offense again in a pair of blow- out wins, 74-53 over an explosive Iowa team and an even more con- vincing 76-49 victory over Minnesota — both NCAA Tournament teams. "Without question, we improved this week," Beilein said. "We got confidence back, got [redshirt junior wing] Charles Matthews back in there a little bit [following an injury]. "We had [sophomore forward] Isa- iah Livers making big plays. There's no question." Brazdeikis, who scored 19 against the Spartans in the final, agreed. "I definitely feel like we'll be pre- pared for the NCAA Tournament," he said. "We've been through it all this season. We've just got to stay com- posed at all times and just give it our all, every second. "Overall, I feel like we got better. We always get better from our losses, and we take away something every single time. We're just going to get better from it." That's their M.O., after all. It's been over two years since they've lost back- to-back games, and the Hawkeyes — a team that handled U-M 74-59 in Iowa City Feb. 1 — were no match for them in a quarterfinal. The Wolverines averaged 1.29 points per possession in the first half and took a 40-27 halftime lead, coast- ing to victory. Junior center Jon Teske, who fin- ished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, played 14 first-half min- utes and was outstanding defensively, while Brazdeikis would finish with 15 points to lead Michigan scorers. U-M made 7 of 16 three-pointers in the first half and assisted on 13 of 15 made field goals, taking control early. "I couldn't wait to see Iowa again," Livers said. "That feeling as we were leaving Iowa City … they stormed the court on us, and we deserved it. We played very badly. "It was a good test for us to get back out there and show the world we're still here." Getting Matthews back from injury helped. Sure, he was rusty on the of- fensive end, having been out for two weeks with a sprained ankle, and JUST SHORT Michigan's Big Ten Tournament Three-Peat Quest Ends In The Finals Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis scored a team-high 19 points in the champion- ship game versus Michigan State, but the Spartans rallied late and prevailed 65-60. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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