Michigan basketball team preaches patience amid shaky early-season moments
ANN ARBOR -- As Juwan Howard likes to say, a team can learn after a loss or a win. One is much preferred over the other, however, so it’s important to note, especially on the heels of a 25-point loss to Arizona State, that Michigan won on Sunday night.
The Wolverines beat visiting Ohio in overtime, 70-66, to improve to 4-1. The game provided plenty of teaching points.
That it reached overtime seemed improbable at many points of the second half. Among them, when…
…Michigan trailed by six with four minutes left
…Kobe Bufkin made two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to give Michigan a two-point lead
The final play of regulation, initiated by the errant inbounds, was incredible.
“That was a crazy play,” Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin said. “That was the wildest play I’ve ever been a part of. … It was kind of one of those situations where you didn’t really know what to do.”
The pass wedged between the backboard and rim, fell softly, and was snatched by a Bobcat. He missed, but a teammate grabbed that miss and converted as time expired.
Howard watched from the sideline and thought the pass was going in. He was disappointed when it didn’t. The resulting basket had him contemplating “the basketball gods.”
“When things are going well in a game, those types of plays will happen,” he said.
Michigan assistant Phil Martelli had seen something similar before, because he’s seen most everything in his 45 years as a coach.
In the 2013 Atlantic 10 tournament, Langston Galloway made a couple of free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s team a one-point lead. Xavier’s ensuing full-court inbounds pass ricocheted off the backboard and right into the hands of Xavier’s Isaiah Philmore. He missed the easy layup, and Saint Joseph’s escaped.
On Sunday, the Bobcats capitalized on their good fortune. But again, the first shot attempt was missed, leading to one of Ohio’s 18 offensive rebounds.
Howard made it clear that Michigan needing overtime to escape Ohio wasn’t just about bad luck.
It was he didn’t like how his team started, and by the midway point of the half he’d pulled all five of his starters. They returned, in unison, after a five-minute stretch on the bench.
“I think everybody realized what was happening,” Michigan center Hunter Dickinson said. “He wanted a spark from the second unit because obviously we weren’t giving it at the beginning of the game.”
Why was that case?
“I think it’s just a mental thing,” Bufkin said. “We’ve just got to come out with higher energy on defense.”
Howard credited Ohio, and said multiple times that anybody in the stands or watching at home that thinks it’s easy to perform at a high level consistently is mistaken.
As for the Wolverines’ struggles on the glass and from 3-point range -- they went 10-for-32 and missed plenty of open looks -- Howard cited effort and mental fatigue.
“Film don’t lie,” he said. “You will see who was involved. Those guys will do better. Every guy in the locker room, their heart is in the right place.”
The Wolverines surged at the end of the first half to take the lead and battled back late in the second half. They weren’t shell-shocked after the crazy final seconds of regulation and dominated the start of overtime.
And remember, Dickinson is Michigan’s only returning starter. The starting point guard, Jaelin Llewellyn, is a transfer, and Michigan’s second best scoring option is freshman Jett Howard. The top three reserves include two freshmen and a transfer. That’s a lot of new pieces trying to find their way together.
Dickinson knows what Howard and the coaching staff expect and has always been pretty good at delivering. That’s not necessarily the norm.
“It’s a process. It’s not easy,” Dickinson said. Mastery of the playbook is a challenge, especially for point guards, he said. “Jaelin is still learning, still trying to figure out his role on the team. It’s not a thing that comes easy. It takes time. … There’s a learning curve for everybody.”
Like his coach, Dickinson said he’s encouraged by the effort in practice. It’s perhaps too early in the season to worry about things not always translating to games.
Howard, when talking about Llewellyn’s progress, might as well have been talking about the entire team trying to find its way.
“It takes time,” he said. “We have patience here.”