SAN ANTONIO (TNS) — John Beilein walked to the podium this past fall with an exasperated grin on his face.
His team's identity was still months away from being realized. His point guard situation was murky. No one knew what to make of his bench. His freshmen were nowhere near ready.
"It's going to be quite a journey this season," Beilein said back then. "Quite a journey."
If only he knew.
That journey took Michigan from unranked to a second consecutive Big Ten tournament title in early March and then a magical five-game run through the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines racked up 14 straight victories.
No. 15 wasn't to be, though.
The Wolverines' ride through the tournament came to an end on the final day of the season, as Villanova received a career-high 31 points from backup guard Donte DiVincenzo and scored a 79-62 win over Michigan in the national championship game Monday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Michigan finishes the season 33-8, setting a program record for wins in a season and returned to the title game for the second time since 2013. The result for Beilein and company, though, was exactly the same.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the Wolverines with 23 points. Moritz Wagner finished with 16 as the Wolverines went 24 of 55 from the floor and just 3 of 23 from 3-point range. Villanova finished 27 of 57, 10 of 27 from 3.
Things started well enough for the Wolverines, as Wagner picked up where he left off with nine points in the game's first five minutes while Michigan flustered Villanova on the perimeter at the other end. The Wolverines led by as many as seven after a bucket from Wagner with 10:59 to play in the half.
But Villanova, who started 1 of 9 from 3, got itself going thanks to DiVincenzo.
A redshirt sophomore from Delaware who entered Monday night averaging 13 points per game off the bench, DiVincenzo carried the Wildcats through an early drought by racking up 18 points in the first half alone. DiVincenzo's triple, combined with a four-minute Michigan scoring drought, gave the Wildcats a 9-0 run and a two-point lead with seven minutes to play.
Nova closed strong, too, as Michigan missed its last six shots of the half while Jalen Brunson's late triple gave the Wildcats a 7-0 run and a nine-point lead at the break. Michigan was outscored 23-7 over the final 10 minutes of the half.
The second half didn't get any easier for the Wolverines, as Eric Paschall canned a triple and a driving layup for another 7-0 Villanova run, pushing the Wildcats lead to 44-30 with 18:03 to play.
The lead only grew from there, as Mikal Bridges pushed it to 18 four minutes later with a transition triple. Every time Michigan seemed to muster a response offensively, Villanova and all its offensive weapons fired right back.
Charles Mattews' steal and bucket chipped the lead down to 12, but DiVincenzo answered again with back-to-back triples. He offered a wink to press row on the way back down the floor with 7:48 to play.
Villanova was back up 18 and Michigan's season was all but over.
The Wolverines' last gasp came after the Wolverines chipped the lead back down to 14 when Jordan Poole had a shot at the rim. His drive was out of control, though, and Bridges immediately cashed in with another 3-point bomb, Villanova's ninth of the game. He'd officially put the game on ice with his third 3-pointer three minutes later, pushing the lead to 22 and ending the Wolverines' season one win short of a title.
Michigan's calling card all year had been its ability to navigate through choppy waters by relying on a tenacious defense and an offense fueled by poise.
On Monday night, though, the Wolverines ran into college basketball's best offense — and its most complete team — before simply running out of gas in the Alamodome.
Michigan's dream journey ends the same way the 2013 run did, with a loss in the national title game.
Beilein and the Wolverines will leave the 2017-18 season knowing they'll be able to hang another Final Four banner into the Crisler Center rafters.
But Michigan's 1989 national title will remain lonely inside its trophy case for at least one more season.