Michigan unable to counter Villanova in title game defeat

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Michigan unable to counter Villanova in title game defeat
Michigan's Charles Matthews (1) reacts to a foul call during the second half in the championship game of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against Villanova, Monday, April 2, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — One by one, Michigan’s starters trudged to the bench in succession while the final minutes of the NCAA Tournament championship game ticked away.

The Wolverines had all tried to stop Donte DiVincenzo, and they had all failed as he delivered the highest scoring performance all season by a Michigan opponent in Villanova’s 79-62 win.

Yet the Wolverines’ inability to counter with points of their own was just as costly.

Charles Matthews, Michigan’s second-leading scorer, managed only six points on 3-for-9 shooting. The Wolverines got no points in 22 minutes from Duncan Robinson, their fourth-leading scorer.

Zavier Simpson needed a few late buckets to finish with 10 total points in the two Final Four games, and the Wolverines’ top playmaker had just two assists. Michigan had only six total assists on 24 field goals.

Even worse, the Wolverines’ entire bench went a combined 3 for 12 while contributing only seven points — or 24 fewer than DiVincenzo, the Wildcats’ extraordinary reserve.

Michigan went a paltry 3 for 23 on 3-pointers, with only Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finding the net. The Wolverines missed 59 of their 73 3-point attempts over the final three games of the NCAA Tournament, and this time they couldn’t make up for it.

For the second time under coach John Beilein, Michigan couldn’t find a defensive answer for a reserve on college basketball’s biggest stage. Luke Hancock scored 22 points for Louisville during its victory over the Wolverines in the 2013 title game.

The Wolverines were an underdog in this matchup at the Alamodome, but they got off to an encouraging start. For the first 10 minutes at the Alamodome, Michigan had an answer for everything Villanova had done so well on its roll through the season as likely the best team in the sport.

Michigan played smart, aggressive perimeter defense against Villanova’s outside shooters, preventing the Wildcats from using a barrage of 3-pointers to jump ahead, as they did against Kansas two days earlier. The Wolverines’ defense was athletic and flexible enough to get a hand in most shooters’ faces, and the difference in Villanova’s offensive flow was dramatic.

Moe Wagner’s 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Loyola-Chicago two days earlier propelled the Wolverines into the championship game, and the German big man got off to another outstanding start against the Wildcats. Wagner slipped inside for a layup to put Michigan up 21-14 midway through the first half, and the Wolverines looked good.

And then it all fell apart.

Michigan didn’t score again for the next 5:13, missing seven consecutive shots. DiVincenzo got rolling with a series of buckets, and his teammates leaped to a nine-point lead at halftime.

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