The Michigan coach knew that the second-ranked Wolverines eventually were going to lose a game. After a wild comeback fell short in Sunday’s 56-53 loss to No. 15 Ohio State, the important thing is to make sure it doesn’t have a knock-on effect.
“When I was at West Virginia, we had a couple teams that got off to long undefeated runs,” Beilein said earlier this season. “The problem was that when we finally lost a game, we’d lose two or three. We’ve got to make sure that when we lose one this year — and we will — we need to bounce right back.”
That’s going to be a difficult chore for the young Wolverines (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten) because they now face an even tougher road game, at No. 8 Minnesota on Thursday.
“This is a game we’re going to learn a lot from,” Beilein said on his postgame radio show. “The best part is that they were learning during the game — that’s something you always want to see, especially from freshmen. They’ll learn a lot more from watching the films.”
Beilein was encouraged when his team didn’t fold despite falling behind 29-8 in the first 13-plus minutes. The Wolverines had the margin down to 12 at halftime, and they were within single digits early in the second half.
“This was a game against a very good team in a very hostile environment,” Beilein said. “People always ask me why it matters where you play, and I tell them that it doesn’t matter to the coaches, but it matters to some players.
“We had some young players get hit in the mouth with that today, but they adjusted to it.”
Michigan pulled even in the final six minutes but never could get the big shot it needed to take the lead. In the end, the Buckeyes (13-3, 3-1) were able to secure the win from the free-throw line.
The Wolverines didn’t shoot well, but they also failed to help themselves on the offensive glass. Michigan came into the game pulling down 35 percent of its own misses but only got 14 percent against the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines also turned the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions, well over their average of 14 percent.
“That’s one of the best defenses in the country, and they showed that today,” Beilein said of Ohio State. “We didn’t do the things we like on offense, but we hung on and fought our way back into the game. That’s why I love coaching this team.”
So the Wolverines, the nation’s last undefeated team, miss out on their chance to take over the top spot in the rankings. They also will share the school record for best start to a season with Gary Grant, Roy Tarpley and the rest of the 1985-86 team.
But Beilein knows that in two months, none of that will matter.
“This game shows us where we are today,” he said. “This doesn’t show us where we are going to be in March. That’s what people will care about.”