INDIANAPOLIS — A few big shots led to an emotional high that drove the Michigan men’s basketball team to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, preventing the Wolverines from experiencing a potentially bubble-bursting nightmare of a weekend.
Thursday, Northwestern took Michigan down to the wire. As expected, the matchup between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeded teams was a close one. In the end, the Wildcats gave Michigan a scare, sending the contest to overtime after trailing by as many as 12. But the Wolverines were able to pull out a win when Irvin hit a game-winning jumper, allowing them to stay in Indianapolis.
Friday, Michigan experienced more of the same late-game scares against Indiana. Down four points with 1:35 to play, the Wolverines had to have a hero in order to win, and sophomore forward Kam Chatman was the recipient of a pass from junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. with 3 seconds left, giving him no other option but to shoot.
He did, and the Wolverines extended their stay in Indianapolis.
But Saturday, Michigan’s tournament run ended. This time around, there was no late game drama. No. 13 Purdue led the Wolverines the entire game, and though Walton cut the deficit to six points with 7:35 to go, Michigan never showed the tenacity it needed to win against a long team with three players measuring in at 6-foot-9 or taller.
The 17-point loss was a hard pill to swallow for the Wolverines, but despite the defeat, Michigan made incredible strides this weekend.
“Well, obviously, we had to win some games here to really feel good about the way our season was wrapping up,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I just love the way the kids competed, because you look at these last two wins we had here — late in the game it didn’t look good in either one — and these kids battled and got Ws when probably people had given up on them.”
After the Wolverines lost four of their final Big Ten regular season games, they needed to prove to themselves once more that they were capable of winning against top-25 teams.
And they did just that, knocking off the tenth-ranked Hoosiers on a court that favored Indiana almost as much as Assembly Hall.
“I was proud of how hard we bounced back after the tough loss we took (against) Iowa,” Irvin said. “For us to come out and beat a tough Northwestern and knock off the No. 1 seed, IU, in this tournament, I was proud of how hard we fought.”
Michigan played three games in a 50-hour span, but the Wolverines will tell you that they didn’t experience the fatigue, too eager to prove why they deserve a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The energy was always there from the start (of the Big Ten Tournament),” Walton said. “When we walked into this building, everyone was really upbeat, really excited to play. It’s just that guys make some shots sometimes; I mean (Purdue forward A.J. Hammons) was making 17-foot hooks over our 6-(foot)-10 guys.”
Almost every member of the Michigan squad found a way to contribute this weekend. Freshman forward Moritz Wagner contributed nine points despite not playing regular minutes since December. Chatman, who averages seven minutes a game, scored the game-winning shot against the Hoosiers. Junior guard Andrew Dakich, a walk-on, hit a 3-pointer and grabbed an offensive board in the same game. Saturday alone, 11 players saw the court, each trying desperately to do something in March.
More importantly, they were doing it for one another.
“The last three games we’ve been playing a lot better as a team, as a unit,” said sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman. “Weathering the storms of runs and things like that. I think we were sticking together and playing for each other.”