NASHVILLE, Tennessee. — The Michigan men’s basketball team appeared to be clean. Down by five points with less than a minute and a ball left.
But that really isn’t the case for this season’s Wolverines team. Time and time again, they’ve managed to squander late leads, and in Nashville they’ve been singing the same tune. So, after late turnover after late turnover, Michigan (18-16 overall) fell to Vanderbilt (22-14), 66-65, ending its season in the second round of the NIT.
There were early signs that the Wolverines were nearing the end of their season when they had to crawl out of the hole in bruises. After a quick start from the field, Michigan went cold and Vanderbilt took over. A flurry of corner 3-pointers on slow defensive turns, a thrilling two-handed dunk, a windmill dunk in transition from Commodores guard Tyrin Lawrence, you name it, and they had it going on a 17-0 run.
But the Wolverines, trailing by 12 points after just eight minutes, changed their tune and freshman guard Doug McDaniel began orchestrating a nylon symphony. He scored 12 points in just three minutes after a massive run by Vanderbilt to get Michigan back in the game.
The Commodores, meanwhile, proved that two can play the game. If the Wolverines can adjust to a new postseason situation, a new roster and a beatdown, so can Vanderbilt. No matter how tense things got after Michigan crawled out of that early streak, even leading 30-29 at halftime, the Commodores set up an early blueprint to use later when they eventually ended the Wolverines’ season.
Even when junior center Hunter Dickinson — after a quiet six-point first half — stepped in as the Wolverines’ leadoff man six minutes into the half, it still wasn’t enough to stop Vanderbilt. Dickinson scored 11 straight points for Michigan, outrunning defenders to become an unstoppable force in the post and give the Wolverines a 52-42 lead.
The Commodores were not hit. It was just another blemish in their NIT run, and they overcame it with great speed. Lawrence continued to hit hard to keep it sharp, and even Michigan’s five points with less than a minute left wasn’t too much to overcome.
Junior forward Terrance Williams II turned it over, then McDaniel made a silly pass. Suddenly it was a one-possession game. By the time Vanderbilt scored its final score, 66-65, the Wolverines heard the tune they’d heard so often reach a crescendo.
And now there is no more NIT dancing left.