Ann Arbor — The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has had its share of thrilling battles, memorable moments and upsets over the past two decades.
With the curtains closing on the interconference series after this season, Michigan looked like it was on its way to writing a fitting final chapter.
Instead, the Wolverines let an 11-point halftime lead slip away and freshman wing Jett Howard had his potential winning shot stuffed as they kicked off a critical week with a crushing 70-68 loss to No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday night at Crisler Center.
“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” junior forward Terrance Williams II said. “We turned the ball over a couple of times down the stretch. We just didn’t execute what we drew up and the ball just didn’t fall our way today in the last couple of minutes.”
The Wolverines (5-2) held a 66-65 with 1:42 to play but they couldn’t hold on as they stumbled in the final minute. After getting a defensive stop, junior center Hunter Dickinson missed the mark on a running hook shot.
On the ensuing possession, Virginia went back in front, 67-66, when Jayden Gardner hit a go-ahead jumper with 40 seconds remaining. Michigan had a shot to reclaim the lead, but grad transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn had his pass deflected and stolen by Reece Beekman with 16 seconds left.
Following three free throws from the Cavaliers (6-0) and a quick layup from Dickinson, Virginia’s Armaan Franklin had a chance to seal it. Instead, he clanked both free throws with six seconds left and Williams corralled the defensive rebound, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game.
“I was just dribbling the ball downhill and I know Jett had the hot hand. The play in the huddle before we were trying to get the ball to him,” Williams said, describing what was drawn up during the timeout Michigan took after Franklin’s first missed free throw.
“I saw him in corner, trying to do a dribble handoff and let him work because he’s a great shot maker. We trust him and we trust the shots he takes. So that’s what was drawn up … and I trust my teammate whatever he did with it.”
On the final play, Howard couldn’t get off a contested 3-pointer over Gardner, who appeared to block the shot, while Michigan’s bench screamed for a foul call as the buzzer sounded.
“Guys took shots that normally they make,” coach Juwan Howard said. “Hunter has made that running hook before. He’s worked on it. The turnover down the stretch, yes, it hurts. Overall, that’s not the reason why we lost the ball game, nor would I ever come up here and point the finger.
“I’m really proud of how our guys competed tonight. … Unfortunately in the game of basketball, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
Beekman scored 18, Kihei Clark 16, Kadin Shedrick 12, Gardner 12 and Ben Vander Plas 10 for Virginia, which shot 50.9% from the field (27-for-53) and outscored Michigan 44-24 in the paint.
Dickinson finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots, Jett Howard scored 15 and sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin added 11 points. Michigan shot 61.3% from the field (19-for-31) in the first half but made just two shots over the final 10 minutes and had more turnovers (eight) than made field goals (seven) in the second half.
The Wolverines built a 45-34 halftime lead during arguably their best offensive half of the season, one where Dickinson was playing bully ball and the outside shots were falling. However, that momentum didn’t carry over as Virginia came ripping and roaring out the break.
The Cavaliers carved up the Wolverines’ defense and made six straight shots to pull within 50-48, forcing Juwan Howard to call a timeout with 15:33 remaining.
The Wolverines managed to weather the storm and stabilize things. After a floater from Jett Howard stemmed the tide, Dickinson found Williams on a cut for a layup, blocked a shot on the other end and then added two free throws to make it a six-point game.
Michigan, though, couldn’t keep Virginia at bay. A hook and hold technical foul on Dickinson led to two free throws. The Wolverines turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions. The Cavaliers chipped away and strung together eight unanswered points to take a 60-58 lead with 7:25 to play.
After Bufkin made two free throws to even it, Vander Plas capped a 13-2 spurt with a 3-pointer to give Virginia a five-point edge. The Wolverines countered as Dickinson tipped in his own missed layup to snap a seven-minute field-goal drought and even it at 65 with 3:27 left.
From there, Dickinson split two free throws to give Michigan a one-point lead, setting the stage for the frustrating finish and a missed opportunity that will stick with the Wolverines as they get set for an overseas showdown against No. 19 Kentucky in London.
“Right now, it’s tough. It’s tough on us,” Williams said. “But the beauty of it is it’s early in the season. The beauty of it is we have many more games in the season. We’re going to take this as a learning experience.
“Games like this and getting into the NCAA (Tournament) field, this win would have definitely helped us. But we’ll learn from it and get ready for Kentucky and Big Ten play coming up.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)