The atmosphere at the Frank Erwin Center was electric. On Star Wars night, light sabers illuminated the crowd and the audience of 12,504 reached incredible volume levels.
But the force was not present in the Longhorns, who fell to Michigan 59-52 in a low-scoring slugfest.
“As a collective unit, we’ve got to be a whole lot better than that,” forward Dylan Osetkowski said. “It’s tough to win a game scoring 52. It’s doable with a defensive team like we have, but collectively, we just have to be a lot better.”
Although the teams looked identical across the majority of the stat sheet, Michigan’s rebounding and physicality were key elements that separated the programs.
Michigan head coach John Beilein’s team registered 40 rebounds, compared to the Longhorns’ 31. The Wolverines’ bigs were not intimidated by Texas’ formidable frontcourt duo of Osetkowski and freshman forward Mo Bamba, and won the battle in the paint.
“Playing with nothing to lose,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I think overall, all of our guys — Mo, D.O. and all of those guys — we have to have more of that mentality. It’s almost like they’re waiting for a perfect opportunity, but sometimes in some situations, you’ve got to make an aggressive move and play off that.”
The offensive start was nightmarish for the Longhorns. Texas scored just two points in the first seven minutes, struggling mightily without its injured leading scorer Andrew Jones. The team shot just 30.4 percent in the first half, allowing Michigan time to find rhythm on offense and claim a decisive lead in the first half.
“If they got off to a great start, that could have been hard,” Beilein said. “We hurried some shots, and we missed some shots we shouldn’t have taken because (Bamba) was standing there. But as the game wore on, we got a lot more comfortable with (Bamba’s) length. Defensively, he’s a game-changer with some of the things we do.”
Michigan led 32-20 at the half thanks to an offensive outburst from point guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
But Texas roared back in the second half on several occasions, feeding off of the crowd’s energy. The Longhorns cut the deficit to 37-34, but Michigan responded with three consecutive threes in a pivotal turn of events.
“The guys got too deflated,” Smart said on the 9-0 run. “There are no 10-point plays. You’ve got to keep battling. You’ve got to follow the plan of what we’re trying to do on the offensive end.”
Texas eventually responded to the new double-digit deficit. The team forced several turnovers and played lights-out defense for a stretch to cut the deficit to six.
With slightly under two minutes left, the Longhorns were gifted an opportunity to further trim the margin. But an offensive foul by Osetkowski in the paint completely reversed Texas’ fortune.
The deficit was too great to surmount in less than 90 seconds, and Texas suffered its first home loss of the season.
But Smart’s team will be granted an opportunity for a quick rebound, hosting Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
“It’s a very, very important game because any time you come off a game like this, you want to get back on the court and show that you’re better,” Smart said. “We can be better than this. We have been better than this, and there needs to be a real sense of urgency and aggressive in everything that we’re doing.”