With nine seconds left in the game and the Michigan men’s basketball team down by one, Derrick Walton Jr. received the inbounds pass looking for a shot that would lead the Wolverines to the Elite Eight.
And with two seconds left, the senior guard got his chance, jab-stepping his defender and stepping back for a 3-point attempt.
But unlike so many of Walton’s shots in Michigan’s seven-game undefeated run, the ball fell just short, clanking off the front iron as the buzzer sounded.
“I thought (the shot) was good,“ said junior forward Duncan Robinson. “That’s a shot that I’ve seen him make over and over, and I have the utmost confidence in him to make that shot.”
That was it, as the Wolverines’ season ended with a 69-68 loss to Oregon (16-2 Pac-12, 32-5 overall) at the Sprint Center on Thursday night.
But for a game that featured two of the top-20 scoring offenses in the country, it sure didn’t feel like it. The two teams combined for just 68 points in the first half of a game that was tightly contested down to the final buzzer.
The first half was marred by off-the-mark shooting — Michigan (10-8 Big Ten, 26-12 overall) shot just 39 percent on 11-of-28 shooting, while Oregon shot just 41 percent on 12-of-29 shooting — and general lackluster play.
“We talked to people who play (Oregon) often, and they said ‘We don’t know what they’re doing, we don’t have a formula for it,’ ” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “It’s just this off formation of zone defense.”
The Wolverines, who had given up just 10 turnovers in their past two games, turned the ball over seven times in the first half, allowing Oregon to run out in transition, a big part of the Ducks’ game plan.
Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. was his usual self with a stat line of 11 points, two rebounds and seven assists in the first half, but he had little help from his teammates. Walton finished with a strong second half, totaling 20 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, who had 26 points in Michigan’s victory over Louisville just four days prior, was off the mark, totaling just four points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first half. Wagner’s second half wasn’t much better, as he played eight minutes and scored three points.
But as poor as the offense looked, Michigan’s defense held strong. Despite two fouls to both senior wing Zak Irvin and redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson, the duo held Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks to just four points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half. Brooks ended the game with 15 points.
“We knew he was a downhill driver, so I just tried to keep my body between him and the rim,” Wilson said. “I tried to make as many looks as possible tough for him.”
Oregon, though, didn’t back down with its star player struggling to score, as guard Tyler Dorsey filled the void. Dorsey, who had averaged 23.6 points a game in his last five contests, got hot late, finishing the first half with a game-high 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc to lead the Ducks into the halftime break with a two-point lead.
The first four minutes showed some promise for the offensive fireworks many expected, as the two teams combined for 21 points before the first media timeout.
But the offensive spurt was just that — a short burst of energy — and the two teams went back to struggling to find the basket.
While Oregon led for most of the half, back-to-back 3-pointers by Wilson and Walton gave the Wolverines a rare one-point lead with 4:15 remaining in the game.
Afterward, the two teams traded baskets — and the lead — until Michigan got a defensive stop, and Walton hit a jumper at the other end to give the Wolverines the lead with just over two minutes left in the game.
“We all felt confident down the stretch,” Robinson said. “Credit to them, they made plays, and that’s what it takes to win a game with two good teams.”
But Oregon roared back and, in the span of less than a minute, took back the lead.
Then it came down to the last shot, Walton’s jumper that fell just short.
It wasn’t the ending the Wolverines’ seniors wanted — that would’ve happened in Phoenix next weekend — but it was about as close to it as they could get.
And for Beilein and his team, that’s about all they ever could have hoped for.