Winning on the road in the Big Ten is a chore, making it that much more important to capture the winnable home games. Michigan let an opportunity slip away in Saturday night's game with Ohio State, losing a 44-40 lead with seven minutes to go in falling 65-58.
And now it gets even tougher. The Wolverines travel to State College to play an improved Penn State team Tuesday night, one of three road games in the next four games, including stops in Columbus and at Purdue. At 13-5, 3-3 in the Big Ten (with two home losses), Michigan's NCAA Tournament hopes are going to hinge on stealing a few on the road.
Games like these are the ones Michigan will have to win at home, head coach John Beilein acknowledged, but he wasn't ready to push the panic button.
"It's not the end of the world," he said. "We've just got to say okay, we're getting better, up by four with eight minutes to go. We're just a couple of plays away, now, from winning that game. We have to shore up some things and we'll get better.
"Tell them what they can do, not what they can't do."
Starting with the obvious … shooting the ball better. Michigan finished 35.7 percent from the floor, junior forward DeShawn Sims struggling to his second poor shooting night in two games. The Wolverines repeatedly found the soft spot in OSU's aggressive 1-2-2 zone, but Sims missed a number of short jumpers in the paint in leaving too many points on the floor.
Both teams managed 25 shots in the paint, but while most of OSU's resulted in dunks or lay-ups, U-M's often ended with missed shots from point blank range. The Wolverines converted only nine.
"I got in the paint; I've just got to get used to making them again," said Sims. "Going against the zone is hard, but the middle is always open against the zone. That's where most of my shots came. We had a couple more shots and misplays go our way, or it could have been our game."
"He got 13 looks in there," Beilein added. We've just got to keep working with them and working with them. They did a really good job getting to Laval [Lucas-Perry, two points] and Zack Novak [five points, four rebounds in 37 minutes on the perimeter. [DeShawn] will [get better]."
Freshman Stu Douglass hit some key triples that kept Michigan in it, one to extend a 41-40 lead to four and another that tied the game at 47. But the Buckeyes went on a 10-0 run and U-M went cold, going nearly five minutes without a bucket down the stretch.
Sophomore Manny Harris led Michigan with 21 points and seven rebounds while Evan Turner (19 points), William Buford (15) and seven-foot freshman B.J. Mullens (15) carried the Buckeyes.
"They are going to score easy points because of their size. Mullens is hard to stop … they had a great game plan," said Beilein. "We just had a lot of tough breaks at different points in that game, and we needed to play a pretty perfect game to beat them. They were better than us tonight."
• U-M will change the schedule around due to its grueling recent stretch, Beilein said.
"We're going to do something different tomorrow and actually take tomorrow off, which is rare. We need to rest, but because we don't have classes Monday we can do a little more," he said. "Then we'll go to Penn State Monday night."
• Sims was slow to credit Mullens, who scored several points on lobs of the Michigan defense.
"He's not really tough at all. He plays off penetration," said Sims. "Every dunk … any seven footer should be able to do that.
"Everybody is human. I pose a match-up for those guys as well being quicker, smaller and more agile."
• The '89 national championship team was honored at halftime to a standing ovation. The loudest cheers were reserved for Glen Rice, the tournament MVP.
The current Wolverines wore the '89 throwback uniforms during the game and posed for pictures with the champs before the game.
Beilein on the magnitude of the loss: "They are all so dang tough for me. I just wish we had played better."