On Sunday in East Lansing, the car hit pothole after pothole and broke down, a helpless wreck sending tendrils of smoke snaking to the rafters.
After a stretch during which Michigan defeated Michigan State in six of eight tries, the Wolverines came into today's matchup having lost the last four meetings. That losing streak became five straight on Sunday afternoon, as the Wolverines fell, 70-62, despite a motivated effort from senior Derrick Walton (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists).
Zak Irvin, however, finished 0-for-8 from the field, with zero points and three turnovers, his worst outing of the season and worst since a 1-for-8 performance against Texas on Dec. 6.
Meanwhile, Walton did his usual work on the glass, while also attacking the rim -- he didn't always finish, but went to the line more often than not.
Despite some rough first-half offense from the Wolverines -- seniors Irvin and Walton combined to shoot 2-for-13 for five points, all from Walton -- they found themselves down just 32-28 at the half.
The Wolverines shot 32.4 percent from the field, while the Spartans managed to shoot 50 percent. On top of that, Michigan was well off its torrid points-per-possession pace from the Indiana game, putting up just 0.88 points per possession in the first half today.
A team can survive that for a half, but two? The Wolverines would need to find the offensive rhythm they had Thursday against the Hoosiers in Ann Arbor if they were going to come away with a key conference road win.
Things started auspiciously enough in the second half when Walton buried Irvin-assisted triples on consecutive possessions. The good vibes didn't last long, though, as the Spartans were able to enter the bonus with more than 11 minutes remaining in the half and build a 51-42 lead.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman stemmed the tide with a triple for a scuffling Michigan, but MSU's Matt McQuaid buried his third trey in three tries to put the home team's lead back at nine with 10 minutes to play.
Unfortunately for Michigan, that second-half offensive renaissance never came. With around seven minutes to play, Michigan had more second-half turnovers than second-half made field goals.
Michigan was within striking distance late, but in the sort of way that a football game is a two-score game when a team is down 16. Walton didn't have a great day from the field himself (4-for-12), but he was the only one who proved determined enough to make something happen.
While Irvin will get most of the flak, DJ Wilson was also just 4-for-12 from the field (0-for-3 from beyond the arc), Moritz Wagner scored 10 but was limited at times by the usual foul trouble and Michigan's bench was mostly irrelevant.
A win against a Michigan State team that had lost three straight would not have been an upset or a huge surprise, like it might have been in the past. The Wolverines, however, just didn't have the answers for Michigan State's defense, the latest chapter in a season's worth of shapeshifting. Unstoppable one moment, eminently stoppable the next.
Which Michigan will turn up down the stretch? Your guess is as good as mine.
UPDATE: Per Beilein, Irvin has been battling the flu, which would certainly explain today's performance.
John Beilein says Zak Irvin missed practice on Thursday and Friday with the flu.— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 29, 2017
- Xavier Simpson had a nice dish in the first half, wheeling around the right side before dropping a nifty pass to Mark Donnal in the paint.
- Moritz Wagner continues to be plagued by foul issues, picking up an early one that saw him yanked for Mark Donnal. This goes without saying, but Michigan's best lineup includes both Wagner and DJ Wilson on the floor.
- Speaking of Wilson, his first-half block from behind was a thing of beauty.
- Zak Irvin finished scoreless for the first time all season. While Wagner and Wilson are/should be the heart of this offense, Michigan can't beat anyone when Irvin is playing like that.
- MSU's Miles Bridges is quite good (15 points, 13 rebounds). Sometimes, there's just not much you can do when a future NBA player is feeling it, as he was in the second half.
- Cassius Winston flashed creativity and speed toward the basket, scoring a Spartans team-high 16 points, mostly from the line, where he went 10-for-11.