San Antonio — The last time Villanova and Michigan crossed paths in the NCAA Tournament in Texas, the Wolverines were left heartbroken.
Four years later in the same city, second-seeded Villanova left No. 11 seed Michigan with a similar sinking feeling.
The Wolverines’ season came to an end once again at the hands of the Wildcats. This time, Michigan turned in an offensive clunker and didn’t shoot nearly well enough — inside, outside and everywhere in between — to knock off Villanova in Thursday’s 63-55 Sweet 16 loss at the AT&T Center.
“It just wasn’t our night out there,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said.
BOX SCORE: Villanova 63, Michigan 55
Dickinson had 15 points and 15 rebounds and fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks scored 14 for Michigan (19-15). The duo shot a combined 11-for-30 from the floor as the Wolverines turned in one of their worst offensive outings of the season.
Michigan shot 34.4% from the field (21-for-61), finished 12-for-29 on dunks and layups, missed seven free throws and made just one shot over the final 4:15, which wasn’t enough to get the job done despite putting up a defensive fight.
“We left a lot of points out there,” Brooks said. “We got good looks. We just didn’t capitalize. I think we got the looks that we wanted. We just didn’t make the shots.”
More: Wojo: Wolverines had their shot against Villanova, came up short
Michigan had its chances to gain some traction out of the break as Villanova (29-7) couldn’t get into an offensive rhythm. Instead, the Wolverines stumbled and sputtered as they struggled to get the ball down low to Dickinson on the block.
And even when they did, Dickinson and his teammates couldn’t finish at the rim, missing one close-range shot after another.
“We knew coming in that they were going to switch a lot, and we prepared for it. Hunter got the ball in some good spots,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Yes, some of the spots that he was pushed off the block, but we got some good looks at the basket. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way.”
Villanova took advantage of Michigan’s woes. The Wildcats used a 3-pointer from Eric Dixon to create some separation, 40-31, and put the Wolverines in dangerous territory with 14:17 remaining.
Brooks kept the Wolverines within striking distance. He hit two 3-pointers — the first snapping a five-minute scoring drought — found freshman forward Moussa Diabate for a dunk and prevented Villanova from pulling away, cutting the deficit to 45-39 at the 9:15 mark.
But Michigan couldn’t make the needed plays to muster a run. During one sequence, the Wolverines forced a missed shot when down by six but gave up an offensive rebound. That led to a three-point play for Caleb Daniels and a nine-point Villanova lead.
After Brooks drained another critical 3-pointer, Michigan turned an offensive foul on Villanova into two free throws from sophomore forward Terrance Williams II, pulling within 54-50 with 3:19 remaining. But once again, Michigan couldn’t capitalize and put more pressure on Villanova as it missed 10 of its final 11 shots.
Following a defensive stop, Williams clanked a 3-pointer. Within the blink of an eye, Villanova pushed the lead to 59-50 on a 3-pointer by Collin Gillespie with 1:52 to play. The Wolverines couldn’t cut it under six points the rest of the way as their roller coaster campaign came crashing to an end.
Jermaine Samuels Jr. scored 22, Justin Moore 15 and Gillespie 12 for Villanova, which beat Michigan in the 2018 national title game a few miles away at the Alamodome.
The Wildcats didn’t fare much better from the field. They shot 37.3% (22-for-59) for the game but made three more 3-pointers (9-for-30) and three more free throws (10-for-12).
“We’ve been battling all season long,” Howard said. “Everyone talks about the shooting from Villanova, whether it’s the 3-point shooting, the attacks in the paint, but you look at the numbers, and they shot 37 percent from the field. They shot 30 percent from three. That says a lot about how hard they played defensively by dialing into the scouting report and making the players have to work for every bucket.”
Michigan’s offense went through Dickinson from the start and the big man missed his first three shot attempts in the paint, which set the tone for the rest of the night.
According to Villanova coach Jay Wright, he knew the Wildcats weren’t going to stop Dickinson. Instead, the plan was to disrupt his timing as much as possible.
“They have great timing offensively. Hunter Dickinson is used to getting the ball at certain spots at specific times on his cut,” Wright explained. “Our ball pressure was taking that timing off a little bit, so when he was catching it, he was catching it a little bit off his spot, and we were trying to hold our ground.
“You saw a couple times he backed us down, it was automatic. We were trying to hold our ground, so instead of taking a 5-foot jump hook, it was an 8-, 10-foot jump hook. Or sometimes he had to make a quick move and was moving a little quicker than he normally did. That’s what we were trying to do.”
On the other end, the Wildcats had some offensive success early and picked the Wolverines apart with their patient attack before they started misfiring. After Samuels converted three straight finishes at the rim, Villanova canned back-to-back 3-pointers to pull ahead, 18-11, and force a Michigan timeout at the 10:30 mark.
The Wolverines went back to Dickinson to stay in it, and he delivered with consecutive baskets in the paint. When Michigan hit a rough patch on offense — a stretch where the team missed four straight free throws — Dickinson pulled the Wolverines out of it. After he scored at the rim, grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones scored on a layup in transition and drained a 3-pointer to put Michigan up, 22-20, for the last time at the 3:56 mark.
On the ensuing possession, Samuels snapped a nearly seven-minute field-goal drought for Villanova with an and-1 layup that sent Dickinson to the bench for the rest of his half with his second foul. Gillespie followed with a 3-pointer, the Wildcats took a 31-28 edge into halftime and the Wolverines missed opportunity after opportunity to claw back in front.
“It’s frustrating knowing that we got good looks and we were missing easy layups and wide-open 3s,” Jones said. “That’s part of the game. You have to have a next-play mentality. Tonight just wasn’t our night offensively, especially in the second half.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism