The Michigan basketball team fell on the road at Duke Tuesday night, 79-69, behind an offensive struggle that lasted essentially throughout the game. Both teams found trouble from the field in the first half, but it was the Blue Devils who managed to scrape together a double-digit win, thanks mostly to consistent defensive pressure that silenced Michigan’s shooters.
Through the first five minutes, the Wolverines hung closely to the Blue Devils, despite a tough shooting start and two downright blown calls that were directly responsible for five Duke points. Both teams struggled from the field to start things off: Nik Stauskas barely touched the ball for the majority of the first half.
The Blue Devils clung to Michigan’s sharpshooters, refusing to give up an open look, and the Wolverines were forced to rely on their paint presence, which did not yield the most promising results. Mitch McGary was basically non-existent in the first half, and the Michigan offense shifted to a strategy of rotating the ball between scorers and letting them drive to the basket. Ball movement was minimal when a chant of “Single Digits” echoed through Cameron Indoor, as Michigan had only notched 9 points with just over five minutes to play in the first half.
On Michigan’s behalf, their shot selection was not terrible through the first twenty. It was mind boggling to see how many layups rimmed out, and the Wolverines struggled mightily as a whole from the field, simply not connecting on makeable shots.
A 10-point deficit at half almost seemed fortunate after a torturous scoring drought that lasted for over four minutes. An offensive burst at the close of the half gave Michigan new life as they eagerly looked ahead to the second. No one encapsulated the halftime tension better than Dick Vitale: “I don’t know about you, but I am perspiring big time!”
As the second half started, Caris LeVert displayed an unusual hesitance, as he appeared to be avoiding contact and shying away from bigger bodies in response to the defensive lockdown from Duke. But when a series of careless turnovers for the Wolverines dug them into an early hole, LeVert emerged as the go-to guy on offense following two consecutive strong finishes at the rim. He began to attack the rim, highlighted by an impressive, acrobatic finish in traffic to secure a 3-point play on his way to a team-high 24 points. But two quick 3’s from the robotically smooth stroke of Andre Dawkins stretched the Duke lead to 12 with less than 10 minutes to play. The deficit would stretch to as far as 16 and Duke was able to keep Michigan at bay for the remainder of the second half, and coast to a 10-point victory.
When looking at the box score, the statistics are eerily similar in almost every category. Both teams took 56 total shots, shot within 1% of each other from the free throw line, and finished within 1 rebound of one another. There is one category that emphasizes Duke’s success in this matchup: 3 pointers.
Duke shot 8-of-23 while Michigan was held to 3-of-13 from downtown. Before Tuesday’s game, Michigan averaged over nine 3-pointers per game. Coach K was able to effectively stifle John Beilein’s primary weapon, depriving the Wolverines of a sizeable chunk of team offense.
This is not exactly the sum of all fears for Michigan fans, but a game like this shows us the dangers of relying on the 3-point basket, and the all-or-nothing results that seem to accompany a positive or negative start, respectively.
Michigan’s biggest obstacle to overcome is figuring out how to free up Nik Stauskas, behind the arc, the team’s ideal scoring option. Asserting that Michigan needs to identify someone to step up for Stauskas in games like this would be an insult to Caris LeVert, but a superstar performance from him would be preferred before the final ten minutes of the game.
Michigan plays at home against Houston Baptist on Saturday December 7 at 12:00 PM.
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