ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has had its share of entertaining games and memorable moments over the past two decades.
With the curtains closing on the interconference series after this season, the Wolverines looked like they were on their way to writing a fitting final chapter.
Instead, Michigan let an 11-point lead slip away and stumbled in the final minute to kick off a critical week with a crushing 70-68 loss to No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday night at Crisler Center.
Junior center Hunter Dickinson had 23 points and seven rebounds for Michigan (5-2), which shot 53.1% from the field (26-for-49) but was held to 23 second-half points. Freshman wing Jett Howard scored 15 and couldn’t get off a contested 3-point shot at the buzzer, while sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin added 11 points.
Reece Beekman scored 18, Kihei Clark 16, Kadin Shedrick 12, Jayden Gardner 12 and Ben Vander Plas 10 for Virginia (6-0), which shot 50.9% from the field (27-for-53) and held Michigan to two made shots over the final 10 minutes.
The momentum from Michigan’s strong first half didn’t carry over as Virginia came ripping and roaring out the break. The Cavaliers carved up the Wolverines’ defense and made six straight shots to pull within 50-48, forcing Michigan coach Juwan Howard to call a timeout with 15:33 remaining.
The Wolverines managed to weather the storm and stabilize things to keep the Cavaliers at bay. After a floater from Howard quelled Virginia’s momentum, Dickinson found junior forward Terrance Williams II on a cut for a layup, blocked a shot on the other end and then added two free throws to make it a six-point game.
Michigan, though, struggled to stay ahead. A hook and hold technical foul on Dickinson led to two free throws. The Wolverines turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions. The Cavaliers chipped away and strung together eight unanswered points to take a 60-58 lead with 7:25 to play.
After Bufkin made two free throws to even it, Vander Plas capped a 13-2 spurt with a 3-pointer to give Virginia a five-point edge. The Wolverines swung back. Dickinson tipped in his own missed layup to snap a seven-minute field-goal drought and even it at 65 with 3:27 left.
That set the stage for a tense finish. Dickinson split a pair of free throws to give Michigan a one-point edge at the 1:42 mark, but the Wolverines couldn’t put the Cavaliers away.
After getting a defensive stop, Dickinson missed the mark on a running hook shot. Virginia went back in front, 67-66, when Gardner hit a mid-range jumper with 40 seconds remaining. The Wolverines turned the ball over on their ensuing possession and the Cavaliers made three free throws to make it 70-66 with 14 seconds left.
A layup by Dickinson cut it to 70-68 with six seconds left and Virginia missed two free throws to give Michigan life. But on the final play, Howard couldn’t get off a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.
As has been the case in recent games, Michigan sputtered a bit out of the gate and Virginia jumped out to a quick seven-point lead before the Wolverines came to life against the Cavaliers’ vaunted defense.
They charged back behind Dickinson, who played bully ball in the paint and found Bufkin for a 3-pointer while sparking a 19-6 run. By the time Howard drained his second 3-pointer during the spurt, the Wolverines took their first lead and pulled ahead, 15-13, with 12:46 left in the first half.
The Wolverines weren’t done as they kept clicking on offense and had the deep ball falling. After Virginia tied it up, Howard made a defender fall with a spin move and buried a fallaway jumper to cap a string of eight unanswered points to make it 23-15 at the 9:34 mark.
The Cavaliers kept getting to the rim and countered behind Beekman, whom Michigan didn’t have an answer for, to cut the deficit to three. The Wolverines responded with 3-pointers from grad transfer wing Joey Baker and grad transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn to regain a 31-24 advantage.
From there, the teams traded blows until Michigan ended arguably its best offensive half of the season with a steal and fast-break layup from Bufkin in the closing seconds for a 45-34 halftime lead.
Before the game, Michigan held a moment of silence for the victims of the fatal shooting on Virginia’s campus earlier this month. During pregame warm-ups, the Wolverines also wore shirts with “Michigan basketball stands with UVA” on the front and the last names of the three students who were killed in the shooting — Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry — on the back.