Michigan basketball carried a four-point lead into halftime break on Thursday night against Central Florida.
But just as they’ve done several times already this season, the Wolverines fell apart in the second half. They lost track of defensive assignments, surrendered furious runs and ultimately let the game get out of hand.
“The second half came around and we weren’t contesting as much,” guard Devante’ Jones said after Thursday’s 85-71 loss in Orlando, Florida. “We started losing our assignments, weren’t rotating, stopped talking as a team. … As a whole, we lost our composure.”
Yet again, U-M (7-5) showed it can hang around as teams look for footing in the first half, but as the game wears on, so does the opposition. Slowly but surely, offenses begin to pick Michigan apart, gashing the lane for electrifying dunks and spacing the floor for solid 3-point attempts.
Thursday’s loss to UCF was no exception.
“We got to be a two-half team,” Jones said. “We can’t just be a one-half team. We’ll never win that way.”
Michigan carried a two-point deficit into halftime en route to a 21-point loss at North Carolina. It only outscored new Division I squad Tarleton State by two in the second half, and U-M’s four-point halftime lead over Minnesota three weeks ago turned into a loss where the Golden Gophers lead by as many as 16 points in the second frame.
So Thursday’s second half collapse wasn’t out of the ordinary.
After Michigan opened the second half on a run — building a 12-point lead less than three minutes in — it was all Knights. Ultimately, UCF outscored the Wolverines, 54-36, in the half, shooting a mystical 18-for-25 (72%) from the field, and a perfect 8-for-8 from the 3-point line.
“They made some shots,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Some were contested, but there were some shots where we lost our man and gave up some open looks. … It was just more turnovers down the stretch that hurt us.”
Especially lethal were Knights guards Brandon Mahan and Darin Green Jr., who combined for 53 points on 18-for-23 shooting. Perhaps signifying Michigan’s second-half failures was Mahan, who scored only four points in the first 20 minutes before eviscerating the Wolverines for 22 points after halftime.
It wasn’t only sloppy turnovers leading to transition points, slower defensive rotations and missed assignments that let shooters like Mahan thrive in the second half, but increased struggles in individual matchups as well. Mahan was clinical in one-on-one situations, creating space with the dribble and draining multiple step-back attempts. Around seven minutes into the half, Mahon drove at Eli Brooks before stepping back, leaving Brooks off balance and drilling a crowd-stirring 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run.
Two minutes later, Green received a pass multiple feet behind the arc. He stood up straight and relaxed his body, exiting an athletic stance, and Michigan’s defense relaxed as well. No defender approached Green to apply ball pressure to the hot hand, and after looking around for a brief moment, he launched the deep 3-pointer to hand UCF a 55-51 lead.
Despite being well beyond the line, Green’s performance up to that point warranted a defensive challenge. In a meeting with media on Wednesday, Howard emphasized making Green’s catches difficult, contesting each shot and living with the result. The Wolverines gave Green plenty of space to shoot a pivotal 3-pointer, and the result was a deficit from which they never recovered.
The defensive shortcomings leave the Wolverines scratching their heads.
“You can look at it and say, ‘Is it fatigue that causes these mistakes?’” Howard asked. “I really can’t give you a clear answer on that, but I would never run away from it and say that’s probably not something that causes it, it’s possible.”
On the heels of another second-half meltdown, Michigan enters Big Ten play on a somber tone. It couldn’t put together a complete game.
And the loss leaves the Wolverines in need of some New Year’s resolutions.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball suffers another 2nd-half meltdown for 5th loss