EVANSTON — The refs put 0.5 seconds back on the clock. Northwestern had 1.7 seconds to break Michigan’s heart.
Michigan coach John Beilein put someone on the inbounder because it was a dead ball, and he felt it would have been a waste of a man to have someone playing safety on the basketball court.
He also worried that guard Bryant McIntosh would make the play an upperclassman is supposed to make in March. If he didn’t have the Wolverines switch on the screens, he felt McIntosh could have ended up with a chance to get a good dribble and determine both teams’ fate with a 15-foot jumper.
Instead, it was determined by a layup. Forward Nathan Taphorn launched the full-court pass, threading the needle so well you would have thought he had a shot to take snaps in spring practice at Ryan Field. It landed perfectly in the hands of center Dererk Pardon.
He kissed the layup off the glass. The bench cleared. The fans rushed the floor. The refs looked at the tape, and then the PA announcer’s voice cascaded around Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Pardon got it off in time. The shot was good. Michigan was leaving Evanston with a 67-65 loss.
“It’s just a fantastic pass,” Beilein said. “Sometimes you just — again, it reminded of the Christian Laettner shot. There’s some things you try and do everything you can. … Derrick can go up high and get it. He can do everything he can, but it was perfect.”
Mortiz Wagner had the tragically painful view of the Northwestern student section. After the game, the sophomore forward claimed he didn’t watch the play unfold. Instead he was focused on the inbounder. But he still got a cruel sense of what happened.
“He took a long time until the inbound,” Wagner said. “… Everyone started running on the floor, that’s what I saw.
“… Coulda, shoulda, woulda, or however that goes. Make one more free throw, (one) less foul, one more switch, stuff like that, make one more shot — that’s how it goes when you lose. Obviously it hurts a lot that we lost on the last play, but … that’s how it is in sports.”
Derrick Walton Jr. thought they hesitated. Beilein’s orders were to switch on the screens. Michigan’s senior captain didn’t believe they did so fast enough.
And thus, he had the front-row seat for the heartbreaker. Taphorn’s pass sailed over his head. Pardon put the layup in over his hands.
He was left standing with his hands on his head, watching Northwestern students storm the floor, wondering what in the hell had just happened. And he’s the one who will need to help the Wolverines recover as they look to move forward.
“Me and DJ kind of looked at each other,” Walton said. “(We) hesitated, that was the only difference.”
Added Beilein: “He’s devastated by that right now. Probably more because he’s not 6-foot-10 with long arms that can get that ball. But he’s really a terrific kid. He played his tail off.”
DJ Wilson, though, didn’t get the same impression as Walton. He echoed Beilein’s sentiment.
“Our plan from the get-go was to switch immediately — switch off the ball and on the ball.”
Hesitation or not, the Wolverines got a taste of the chaos of March just a few weeks premature.
Pardon set the screen for McIntosh. Wilson switched on to McIntosh. Walton switched on to Pardon. You know the rest. Wilson was left to simply watch the pass land perfectly into Pardon’s outstretched hands, before coming short of pinning the layup to the glass and sending the game into overtime.
“It’s something I’ve always seen on TV and what not, on ESPN,” Wilson said. “But I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
Santo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kevin_M_Santo. People forget that you can @ him.