Michigan came out like a team with a purpose on Friday night against the sixth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish. A Zak Irvin layup started off the scoring and the Wolverines wouldn't give up the lead for the rest of the half. At the end of the half, Notre Dame connected on their last seven field goal attempts and all that happened over that stretch was Michigan extending their lead by one, going into the break up 41-29.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, it wouldn't last in the second half. It quickly became a back and forth game and the Irish pulled away at the finish, winning 70-63.
Here's our biggest takeaways from Friday night.
1. Notre Dame just made more plays late
After a Mark Donnal free throw tied the game at 59 with just over four minutes to go, Notre Dame took control with their playmaking. On the ensuing sequence, V.J. Beachem hit a three, followed by a Zak Irvin missed three, and capped off with another Beachem mid-range jumper to put the Irish up by five.
Mark Donnal converted on a layup at the other end, but after a big stop for the Wolverines on a Notre Dame turnover, Donnal couldn't convert a close opportunity a second time. Michigan still was in good shape, only down three with a little over two minutes to go. They had another good defensive possession by making the Irish work the entire shot clock to get a look and Steve Vasturia missed at the rim, but Bonzie Colson came in for maybe the biggest play of the game with a putback layup.
Irvin got a bucket at the other end to get the Wolverines back within three and Michigan got another key stop at the other end, even capping it with a rebound to finish it off this time around. But in a one score game with 45 seconds to go, the Wolverines had their muddiest possession of the night that resulted in a 25-foot Irvin three-pointer that was off the mark. At that point, it was just a few Irish free throws and the game was over.
2. Interior play was the difference
It's been a weak spot all year for John Beilein's group. It's hard to ever fault the effort of Donnal, Moe Wagner, or Ricky Doyle, but they've struggled all year against big guys who were, well, bigger. Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson provided that for Notre Dame and the two combined to go 8-10 on the inside for 22 points and 17 rebounds. Colson isn't all that tall, but he's stout, physical, and able to bully his way for buckets down low.
3. The season ends with a big "What if?"
That would clearly be "What if Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht were healthy this year?" It's the second year in a row that injuries have marred a promising season for the Wolverines. If the NCAA Tournament has shown you anything over the past couple of days, it's that talented guards that can shoot are a huge asset.
LeVert is an All-Big Ten, future pro type player. Albrecht isn't at the same level, but he was basically playing every minute of every Big Ten game last year and a career 40% three-point shooter. Not to mention he had a bit of a flair for the big moments. His highest scoring game for the first two and a half years of his career was the national championship game in 2013. Michigan was that close to being a Sweet Sixteen team without them, who knows what they could've been with the two senior guards.