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Daniel Feldman: No toasting in Champaign

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 5, 2014

CHAMPAIGN — Michigan coach John Beilein stood in the middle of the court. His team had just clinched Michigan’s first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1986 and now he was recording an interview for TV.

Slowly, the StateFarm Center’s workers were deconstructing the court. Standing behind the Wolverines bench was a large showing of family and friends.

As he wrapped up the interview, Beilein walked to the tunnel where a gathering of media members stood. The coach could have easily gone to greet the crowd or back to the locker room to make sure his players were fine. He could have easily made way for the bus, waiting outside.

There were any number of things he could have done, instead, he stopped and he talked.

For a team Beilein had said was free of distractions and drama, it seemed it was free of elation too.

It made sense for the team not want to celebrate after clinching only a share of the title on Saturday against Minnesota. As sophomore guard Spike Albrecht said, Michigan still had “unfinished business to take care.”

Hell, even fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan said on Monday, “we’re not going to celebrate until this year’s over with.”

But after the complete dismantling Michigan unleashed on Illinois Tuesday night, wouldn’t some emotion come out? After waiting 28 years to make history, wouldn’t this team at least be celebrating?

***

The Wolverines scored 52 points in the first half, shot 19-for-28 from the field, 11-for-14 from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, after Illinois fouled three times in the final 10 seconds of the half to prevent a last-second attempt, knocked down a triple from NBA range.

And yet, the only thing Beilein could say from the bench was “wow.”

Can you blame him?

His team had just played the best half of basketball all season. It scored more points in the half alone than Illinois’ last four opponents had in a game.

Despite the statistically ridiculous half, Beilein didn’t want to celebrate.

“It hit me when we were up by 30 with about two minutes to go,” Beilein said, “and I said ‘even I can’t blow this lead. We’re going to win it.’ ”

The circumstance was odd to Beilein. It wasn’t like two years ago when an upset win handed Michigan a share of the title. It wasn’t like last year either when a tip by Morgan rimmed out as time expired, winning the crown for Indiana.

“I don’t know what to think,” he said to the throng of reporters. “I have this quiet feeling right now where you set out to accomplish a goal and you accomplish it. It’s strange.”

“It’s something that I know I’m going to cherish for a long time. Right now, I’m trying to put it together, how we played that well tonight.”

***

As Morgan, Stauskas, redshirt junior forward Jon Horford and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III sat in the interview room after the game, the group laughed.

Morgan joked about Stauskas not making eight 3-pointers in the game.

Robinson and Stauskas said this moment had been their mindset since the beginning of the season.

It was a moment Stauskas could have made a statement about his candidacy for Big Ten Player of the Year. Instead, he stuck with the big picture.

“As a team, I think it was some of our best basketball,” he said.

With the trophy, something the team hadn’t had sole possession of in 28 years, rested in front of them, Stauskas didn’t want to center the attention on him.

“Win a Big Ten championship,” Stauskas, without his teammates present, said later. “That wasn’t something we accomplished last year.”

But don’t be misled. The team did celebrate in the locker room. They sang, yelled and gave shout outs to everybody.

Beilein and his players want to talk about how much the title means, how it’s something incredibly special, something neither group has done alone.

“They see this as a great highlight,” Beilein said. “I think they’d like to have more.”

Beilein walked back through the tunnel, still keeping a conversation with reporters. In the end, the game was another regular season matchup, despite the title meaning what it means.

After falling a game short of the ultimate team achievement last year, this accomplishment will only be a highlight.

As great as this moment is, a true celebration won’t occur unless Michigan does what it did in 1989.

Daniel Feldman can be reached at danieljf@umich.edu or on twitter @danfeldman31.


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