CHICAGO — Jordan Poole stood next to John Beilein. Both had their hands on their hips. Both shared the same stoic glare as they talked out of the sides of their mouths.
A minute earlier, Aaron Henry’s free throw had bounced off the front rim with 12 seconds left and the Spartans up by three. After a Michigan State foul, Poole took an inbounds pass and ran forward, dribbling behind his back and darting towards the middle of the floor. Poole shot — from well beyond the 3-point line — and missed, badly.
The game’s last three seconds were a formality. A long inbound pass from Isaiah Livers bounced off Poole’s fingertips and he pushed his lips out, watching his team enter the aftermath.
So there stood Poole, unmoving, as reality set in. A 65-60 loss to Michigan State, one in which Michigan led by double-digits in the second half, the second week in a row the Wolverines have given the Spartans a Big Ten title in the same manner.
“You gotta get to the foul line,” Beilein said later. “They still have three fouls to give against a physical team. You just can’t settle. He tried to get fouled. I’m sure he doesn’t like that shot. We certainly didn’t.”
One shot doesn’t lose a game. Neither does one player. That was the refrain echoed in Michigan’s locker room afterward, and it’s true. But Poole did himself no favors, taking nine threes and making just two of them as Beilein stewed on the bench.
Back in December, when things seemed to be clicking into place for the sophomore guard, both he and Beilein talked about a growing ability to differentiate good shots from bad. On Sunday, as Poole took stepback three after stepback three with big men switched onto him, Beilein looked on with anguish, pulled Poole from the game and at one point, slapped the floor with both hands.
“Jordan’s a really good shooter,” said sophomore guard Eli Brooks. “He has a green light for most of the shots.”
In conference play, though, Poole is shooting just 32.7 percent from 3-point range. He shot well to start the month of March, but after Sunday, his monthly split is almost identical to February — and the NCAA Tournament looms.
Michigan needs Poole from here on out, and it needs the best version of him. So much of that comes down to a concept elementary in nature and labyrinthine in practice: taking good shots.
“If it goes in, it’s a good shot. If it doesn’t, it’s a bad shot,” Brooks said, seeing the simplicity.
For Beilein, it’s more complicated.
“They’re gonna get you in the long run,” he said of shots that look bad and happen to go in. “You’re not gonna win. You gotta value possession and turnovers. You gotta take good shots. And you can’t just put your head down and say, ‘I’ll make something happen.’ ”
The question he was answering wasn’t about Poole — Beilein won’t single out players — but it easily could have been. In the locker room minutes earlier, a team yet to reconcile another crushing loss with its status as a No. 2 seed in a favorable West region had the same stunned look on its faces as when it left the floor.
There’s no finger-pointing here — blame is collective. Sophomore guard C.J. Baird said it may not have been part of the game plan for Poole to take as many shots as he did, but those shots were open.
“He knows when he should shoot and shouldn’t shoot,” Baird said, and that’s a trust Poole has earned from his teammates, at least.
But Poole himself didn’t talk in the locker room. He made only one appearance, swiftly walking through, putting his phone in the top rung of Charles Matthews’ locker and dipping into the shower with no questions asked and no answers given.