LAHAINA, Hawaii — An opening loss put a damper on Michigan’s trip Maui, leaving no chance of returning with a championship. The Wolverines could at least win two of three games and that’s just what they did with a gritty performance for fifth place.
Moritz Wagner scored six points during Michigan’s closing 11-0 run, helping the Wolverines beat VCU 68-60 on Wednesday for fifth place in the Maui Invitational.
“After that first one on Monday night, we were very disappointed, but we kind of huddled together and agreed to head back on the plane 2-1 would be a big accomplishment,” Michigan forward Duncan Robinson said. “So that was kind of our focus after Monday night’s result. We just kind of tried to band together and hopefully that could set the tone for us to move forward.”
The Rams and Wolverines already had one tight game in Maui and they were in close duel for after a series of runs by both teams.
Michigan (5-1) had the final one, keyed by Wagner’s three-point play with 1:11 left and 3-pointer from the wing with 13 seconds remaining.
Robinson led the Wolverines with 18 points, and Wagner finished with 12 and nine rebounds.
Khris Lane led VCU (3-3) with 13 points. De’Riante Jenkins and Mike’l Simms added 12 each.
“Hard-fought game by both teams,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Thought we had put ourselves in a position to find a way to pull it out and we just beat ourselves late in the game there. A couple mishaps on offense, just didn’t get good shots, and they made a couple plays.
VCU was unable to make plays down the stretch in an opening loss to Marquette before bouncing back with a lopsided victory over Cal.
Like the Rams, the Wolverines felt like they let a victory slip through their grasp in its first-game loss to LSU and followed with a runaway victory over Division II Chaminade.
VCU and Michigan had a tight game, neither team able to gain much separation in the first half. Michigan led 36-30 behind Robinson’s 10 points.
The Wolverines were able to stretch the lead to 10 with a 7-0 run early in the second half.
Then VCU’s press started giving Michigan problems; not always resulting in turnovers, just disrupting its offensive flow. The Rams held the Wolverines scoreless for nearly five minutes and used a 13-2 run to go up 53-49.
Michigan took its turn to go running, scoring eight straight points to go up 57-53, but VCU scored seven straight, only to allow the Wolverines to answer with one final push.
“Somebody’s going to go home 0-3, and somebody’s going to go out of here 3-0. And it’s just those two,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “It could be on the other side of a 2-1 or 1-2, (so 2-1) is really big.”
Michigan showed some determination in its final game in Maui, leaving paradise a respectable 2-1.
VCU failed to make the plays down the stretch for the second time in three games, leaving Maui 1-2.
Because of its pressure defense, VCU is usually the team that gets out on the break for easy baskets. Michigan had the transition edge against the Rams in this one, outscoring them 16-0 in fast-break points.
Michigan forward Jon Teske has not had a huge impact so far this season, averaging 5.3 points heading into Maui. The 7-foot-1 sophomore presented a problem for the Rams, scoring eight points, blocking two shots and altering several others. “A couple times we drove in there and he’s just standing there, roots in the ground, 7-1, 255, you’re not moving him,” Rhoades said. “He did his job. It’s almost like a turnover. To me, that’s just a bad shot. That happened three or four times especially in the second half.”
Michigan hosts UC Riverside on Sunday.
VCU hosts Appalachian State on Tuesday.