Ann Arbor, Mich. – DeAndre Mathieu squatted at midcourt, his head bent to the floor.
It had happened again. Looking to find a Gophers teammate in transition, communication broke down. Again, as it had so many times since tipoff. Instead of finding friendly hands, the ball soared to Saturday’s fickle sixth man: the bleachers.
Mathieu had his fifth turnover. At that point, the Gophers were still clinging to a five-point lead over Michigan with 7 minutes, 12 seconds to play. But the momentum had effectively shifted.
Hamstrung by an epidemic of turnovers and a failure to make late plays, the Gophers were well on their way to fettering away a nine-point lead. They trudged out of Crisler Center 62-57 losers and 0-4 in the Big Ten, and without any explanations to offer.
“Those turnovers were inexplicable,” coach Richard Pitino said of the Gophers’ 17 miscues. “You can’t explain much of it, I know you’re looking for an answer; I have no answers.
With 26 seconds left, Michigan freshman Ricky Doyle caught an alley-oop from Derrick Walton Jr. and flung it through the net, giving the Wolverines (10-6, 3-1 Big Ten) a 59-55 lead and sending the announced crowd of 12,707 into a frenzy. That was enough to send the Gophers (11-6) home with a four-game losing streak to start conference play.
Leading 52-49 with 4½ minutes to go, the Gophers went 2-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line while committing three turnovers the rest of the way.
Michigan, meanwhile, stole the moment. Zak Irvin’s two free throws pulled the Wolverines within one, and after Andre Hollins and Carlos Morris missed perimeter shots on a single possession, Walton’s three-pointer with 3:24 to go gave Michigan a 54-52 lead.
The next time down, Caris LeVert knocked down three free throws after Joey King fouled in the last second of the shot clock. Hollins came back with a three-pointer, but with 56 seconds left, Hollins’ pass was stolen by LeVert, setting up Doyle’s cut to the heart.
“We just gave the game away,” said Hollins, who had 18 points and five rebounds. “Nothing much to say. Just gave the game away honestly.”
Buoyed by an aggressive Morris (16 points on 7-for-10 shooting) attacking the basket off the dribble over and over, the Gophers went on a 9-2 run to build a 46-37 lead midway through the second half. But employing a 1-3-1 zone and getting scores in transition, Michigan plowed right back.
“It didn’t really bother us until the last minute,” Morris said of Michigan’s 1-3-1. “The game got a little close and I think we kind of spazzed.”
The Gophers struggled to function against Michigan’s other zone — the 2-3 — from the start. Unable to get the ball inside, they lost the ball on the perimeter and started the turnover parade.
But a quick start from the previously slumping Hollins and a hot touch from downtown enabled the Gophers to take a 27-25 into the break, with Michigan shooting only 35.7 percent from the field.
After the energy flipped and the Gophers glared up at the wrong end of the score for the fourth time in a row, a clearly agitated Pitino wouldn’t share his postgame message — “That’s between us and the team,” he said — and gave short, often one-sentence replies in a news conference that lasted less than five minutes.
Hollins said it was the most frustrated he had seen the second-year coach, a sentiment the senior guard reflected.
“You just throw the ball out of bounds and there is nothing coach can do,” Hollins said. “It’s out of his hands, it’s on us players to not throw the ball out of bounds multiple times in one game.”