Assembly Hall is a tough place for freshmen. Just ask the Fab Five, who lost by 15 points in their first visit to Indiana’s wild arena.
So it wasn’t a surprise when freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III struggled Saturday night — combining to hit just 4 of 16 shots as No. 1 Michigan lost 81-73 to No. 3 Indiana. Even that is misleading, as two of the baskets, including the pairs’ only 3-pointer, came after the Hoosiers had pulled away down the stretch.
“We had a lot of young players who were getting some crucial experience tonight,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on his postgame radio show. “They didn’t make all of their plays, but they learned a lot and I was proud of the way they kept fighting.”
Michigan is now 0-1 in a crucial 11-day stretch that sees them play the rest of the Big Ten’s top five. The Wolverines host Ohio State on Tuesday, play at Wisconsin next Saturday and finish up at Michigan State on Feb. 12.
As they did at Ohio State in their only other loss, the Wolverines fell behind early, trailing 26-11 after nine minutes. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. got Michigan (20-2) back into the game, and Burke’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer cut the Hoosiers’ lead to 36-32 at the half.
“When you play a great team on the road, you are going to get their best shot, especially at the beginning of the game,” said Burke, who finished with game highs points (25) and assists (eight). “That’s a heck of a team, but we’ll learn from this and get better.”
The Wolverines tied the game at 40 early in the second half, but they couldn’t overcome the lack of production from Stauskas and Robinson, who both looked tentative and uncertain.
Robinson never got going, scoring his only basket late in the game, and finishing with just four rebounds. Stauskas, who was battling flu-like symptoms, scored 10 points, but only took five 3-pointers and didn’t hit one until the final seconds.
“We had a lot of good open looks that we didn’t knock down, and they knocked down most of their open shots,” Beilein said. “We got back into the game, but that’s a very good team, and they kept making plays whenever we got close.”
With Jordan Morgan still limited by a sprained ankle, that put all of the scoring burden on Burke and Hardaway (18 points). They combined for 43 points, but needed 40 field-goal attempts to get there. Freshman Mitch McGary added 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench, but it wasn’t enough.
Morgan’s absence also hurt on the glass, as Indiana’s Cody Zeller was able to break free for two put-back dunks when the Hoosiers were struggling to stay ahead. Zeller also beat Stauskas and Burke to a loose ball late in the game as Michigan was trying desperately to stay in the game.
Zeller, who tallied a team-high 19 points and nine rebounds, and the rest of the Hoosiers starters all finished in double figures. Victor Oladipo scored 15, Christian Watford and freshman point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell added 14 apiece, while Jordan Hulls finished with 11.
The Hoosiers outrebounded the Wolverines 38-29, led by Watford’s 10, but a big difference was Indiana’s 25 trips to the foul line compared to Michigan’s seven — IU made 22 free throws; Michigan hit six. The Hoosiers did shoot 52 percent from the field (26 of 50), while the Wolverines shot 42.9 percent (30 of 70).
The teams face each other again at the Crisler Center on March 10 — a game that will probably decide the Big Ten title. If that contest wasn’t going to have enough intensity, Indiana’s Oladipo raised the emotion by throwing down a vicious dunk at the buzzer while the rest of the players had already started to shake hands.
The dunk didn’t count — it was slightly too late — but Hardaway was clearly unhappy about the play when he talked to Oladipo after the game.
Oladipo’s meaningless dunk was nowhere near his most spectacular moment of the night. In the second half, he broke free on a fast break and elevated for an alley-oop pass from Hulls. The pass was badly thrown, but Oladipo managed to control the ball behind his head with one hand and slam it into the rim.
The ball didn’t go down, bouncing high off the rim, but he came close enough to cause an explosion on Twitter, with one viewer calling it the “greatest missed shot in NCAA history.”
In the end, neither play mattered. Indiana will replace the Wolverines at No. 1 when the polls come out Monday — helped by second-ranked Kansas losing to Oklahoma State earlier in the day — and Michigan will start preparing for the Buckeyes, Badgers and Spartans.
“Teams are going to lose games,” Beilein said. “We are very disappointed, but we can’t dwell on it.