NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Three turnovers.
Three pesky losses meant the Michigan men’s basketball team fell to Vanderbilt in the second round of the Wolverines NIT.
Three turnovers ended Michigan’s season under par.
And they all happened at the last minute.
Up by five with just 58 seconds left in the final frame, the Wolverines should have been on their way to celebrating another NIT win — and taking another step closer to Las Vegas in their quest for the banner. Coming out of a timeout — called by the Commodores because of Michigan’s dominant play of late — the Wolverines had the game in hand.
But instead of hanging on for dear life, the Wolverines let the game slip through their fingers.
“We turned the ball over three straight times,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Just the simple plays where one was a pass and the guy didn’t make the basketball, the other (was) a crosscourt pass, which is a tough catch for the player, and the other was another pass. Very uncharacteristic of us as a team.”
Junior center Hunter Dickinson summed it up neatly:
“We just gave them a game.”
After Vanderbilt’s free throw with 58 seconds left forced Michigan to go out of bounds, the Commodores began a full-court press. But instead of breaking down like they had all game with easy, calm passes, the Wolverines got scared.
Dickinson made a pass from the middle of the floor right toward the baseline into the hands of junior forward Terrance Williams II. The pass broke the initial full-court trap, but it quickly turned into chaos. As the Commodore guards swarmed Williams on the baseline, he lost control of the ball, flipping it right into the hands of Vanderbilt guard Ezra Mangone.
To make matters worse, Williams turned right and hit Mangone in hopes of getting the ball back. But instead of recovering from his mistake, he compounded it with a foul — sending Mangone to the free throw line. And when the second free throw went over the net, the first turnover in those fateful 58 seconds cut Michigan’s lead to just three.
Despite Williams’ failure, the Wolverines still had a chance to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win, holding on to that slim possession lead.
Once again, full-court pressing proved costly for Michigan as Vanderbilt aggressively defended the pass after the free throw. With a successful possession and a three-point lead, all the Wolverines had left to do was chew the clock in search of a good look.
Instead, it was freshman guard Doug McDaniel’s turn to go down. Barely driving the ball across half court before the 10-second buzzer, McDaniel was visibly excited. And instead of settling down and setting up a play, having a defender on his person hastened him even more.
Throwing the ball across the court to Williams, the ball flew over his head, just missing. Having flown into the stands, the ball was again in the possession of the Commodores.
And instead of wasting chances like Michigan chose to do, Vanderbilt capitalized on sloppy mistakes, putting the ball back into Maggiono’s hands. Maggio’s layup cut the Wolverines’ lead to just one.
“We really gave them a game,” McDaniel said. “They put the pressure on the whole game, but at the end we just loosened up and gave it to them.”
With 20 seconds left, Michigan still had a chance to pull away for the win. The recipe for success was a one-point lead, possession and no shot clock.
But once again, Michigan fell short. After Maggio’s layup, the Commodores pressed for an inbounds pass, forcing Williams to burn a timeout rather than risk a five-second call. And on the second attempt at the entrance, things did not go any better.
In fact, they have it worse.
Williams eventually got the ball into Dickinson’s hands with a risky lob pass. However, Dickinson was flustered as multiple guards swarmed him and he threw the ball back to Williams. Unsuspecting the pass, Williams dropped the ball from his hand and inadvertently tossed it into the hands of a Vanderbilt guard.
The Commodores drove the ball up the floor and ended the possession with a fumble, but Dickinson called it a field goal, giving the Commodores a one-point lead with 12 seconds left.
On the next possession, McDaniel tried to put the team on his back and force them to go through the ring. But when the ball bounced off the front edge and no one was able to tip it back, the final buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t put any pressure on them the whole game,” Vanderbilt guard Tyrin Lawrence said. “But we did (in the last minute) and it disrupted their offense and their flow that they had and we got some steals.”
Once again, the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor with losses on their hands—losses of their own making.
But in this case for the last time.