SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Michigan’s starters trudged to the bench in weary succession, watching with towel-covered heads in their hands while the waning minutes of the NCAA Tournament championship game dropped away.
After finding answers to every problem during their 14-game winning streak, the Wolverines’ final test of the season had been just too tough.
They tried just about everything to stop Donte DiVincenzo, and everything failed as he delivered 31 points — the highest scoring performance all season by a Michigan opponent — in Villanova’s 79-62 win. The Wolverines also failed to match the Wildcats’ offense with more offense, and that proved to be just as costly.
Afterward, coach John Beilein seemed relatively upbeat after falling one game short of his first championship for the second time in six years.
“Even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did,” Beilein said. “It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you, and you just say, ‘OK. We played you the best we could, and tonight, you were better than us.'”
For the second time, 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.
DiVincenzo was even better, and just as vexing.
“That’s his talent,” guard Charles Matthews said. “We were guarding him, and he was making those shots. It’s as simple as that.”
The Wolverines couldn’t slow him down, and they couldn’t catch up.
Matthews, Michigan’s second-leading scorer, managed only six points on 3-for-9 shooting and committed five turnovers. 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 against Villanova. Michigan had only six total assists on 24 field goals in the title game.
Michigan went a paltry 3 for 23 on 3-pointers, with only Wagner and 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.
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 sixth man.
“Anytime (an opponent) gets into a rhythm like that, where you can pull up from anywhere and just knock them down, it’s tough to stop,” said Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman, who led the Wolverines with 23 points. “You’re always on your heels defensively because you never know what he’s going to do — either shoot, pull up and shoot the 3, or drive to the basket.”
Wagner finished with 16 points, but appeared to be headed to much more before the Wildcats’ defensive adjustments.
The German center scored nine points in the first five minutes, nailing one 3-pointer and going to the hoop with grace. But he got just one bucket in the final 16 minutes while the Wolverines were far behind.
“I’ll have to watch the game, but yeah, obviously they played the drive better,” said Wagner, who also had four turnovers. “I guess I wasn’t as aggressive anymore. Turned it over a couple of times. They’re a really good team defensively. When they play like that, it’s really hard to beat them.”
The loss was an anticlimactic end to a remarkable postseason for the Wolverines, who had won by margins large and small in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
The Wolverines only got out of the NCAA second round on freshman Jordan Poole’s 3-pointer to beat Houston two weeks ago, but they appeared to find their stride in the Sweet Sixteen. In quick succession, Michigan dropped 97 points on Texas A&M and grinded out a solid win over Florida State to reach the Final Four, where they ended Loyola-Chicago’s remarkable story with a determined effort.
The Wolverines were clear underdogs in this final matchup at the Alamodome, but they got off to an encouraging start with aggressive perimeter defense against Villanova’s outside shooters. 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 while DiVincenzo got rolling.
“After those 15 minutes, they really were just a better team than us,” Beilein said.
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