Michigan never finds its footing in blowout loss

January 19, 2018 GMT

Falling into first-half holes has become a troubling trend for Michigan in recent weeks.

This time, though, the No. 23 Wolverines finally dug one that they couldn’t climb out of.

A sloppy start coupled with a lifeless effort at both ends of the floor led to a lopsided 72-52 loss to Nebraska Thursday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Charles Matthews scored 15 with 6-for-10 shooting but received little help for Michigan (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten), which was playing its third game in six days.

James Palmer Jr. scored 19, Isaiah Roby 14, Isaac Copeland 13, and Anton Gill 10 for Nebraska (14-7, 5-3), which shot 55.3 percent (26-for-47) from the field and played with an energy Michigan simply couldn’t match all game long.

BOX SCORE: Nebraska 72, Michigan 52

The victory ended a 10-game losing streak in the series for Nebraska and marked the Cornhuskers’ first victory over Michigan since Dec. 12, 1964.

After a miserable first half during which Michigan was never able to establish any semblance of a rhythm, it only continued to get worse in the second half. The Wolverines simply had no answers and Nebraska used an 18-4 run to extend its lead to 49-31 with 11:59 to play.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored Michigan’s lone points during the stretch with a free throw and a 3-pointer, which ended a five-minute field-goal drought at the 12:40 mark, but was sandwiched around a pair of deep balls by Gill that made it an 18-point game.

All Michigan could muster was an 8-2 run behind an Abdur-Rahkman free throw and layup and Jordan Poole jumper and fast-break dunk to cut it to 51-39 at the 8:38 mark.

That’s as close as it would get as Palmer scored five straight with two free throws and a deep jumper to spark a 12-3 run to put the game out of reach, 63-42, and prompted Michigan coach John Beilein to pull his starters with 4:57 remaining.

It was a frustrating finish for the Wolverines that followed a dismal beginning as they were out of sorts from the tip and committed nine turnovers in the first half. Nebraska promptly took advantage and used an 18-4 run over a nine-minute span to take a 28-16 lead with 4:13 left before halftime.

Nebraska started the spurt with eight straight points on four straight made field goals before Matthews scored on a driving layup at the 11:10 mark.

Michigan went on to miss its next eight shots and endured a six-minute scoring drought before Matthews made two free throws to cut the deficit to 24-16 at the 5:05 mark.

Zavier Simpson knocked down a 3-pointer at the 3:43 mark for Michigan’s first made field goal in over eight minutes and Matthews added a putback as the Wolverines shot just 2-for-16 over the final 11 minutes to fall behind, 32-21, at the break.

Michigan shot 32 percent (8-for-25) from the field in the first half and 37.5 percent (21-for-56) for the game.

Here are some other observations from Thursday’s game:

♦After scoring 45 points combined against Michigan State and Maryland, junior center Moritz Wagner was a non-factor throughout the game. He attempted just one shot in the first half and finished with a season-low two points on 1-for-5 shooting in 32 minutes. It was Wagner’s least productive outing in 52 games since he finished with two points at South Carolina last season.

♦For the second straight game, Beilein used a lineup with Abdur-Rahkman at point guard and freshman Jordan Poole at the two, presumably in an effort to get Poole more playing time. Beilein also kept Poole in the game late when it was already out of hand to let him work through his mistakes.

♦Nebraska entered the game ranked fourth in the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage defense at 31.9 percent and allowed the third-fewest made 3-pointers. Michigan struggled throughout the game to dial it in from 3-point range and shot a season-low 22.2 percent (4-for-18) from beyond the arc. Aside from freshman Isaiah Livers (2-for-4), Duncan Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman, Wagner, Matthews and Poole were a combined 1-for-12 on 3-pointers.

♦Michigan struggled to finish at the rim past two games against Michigan State and Maryland. But against Nebraska, that was Michigan’s best success on offense as 10 of its 21 made fields goals came on layups and dunks and it finished with 34 points in the paint.

♦Michigan entered the game averaging 9.8 turnovers per game, the sixth-fewest in the nation. The Wolverines had nine in the first half and 12 total, which led to 11 Nebraska points.