WICHITA, Kan. — You’ve seen that play before.
Alright, so you haven’t seen that exact scenario, with Jordan Poole hitting an improbable, contested three to send the Michigan men’s basketball team to the Sweet Sixteen. But you’ve seen that set before.
Think back to January, when the Wolverines needed free throws from senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to overcome Maryland.
It’s the same set.
Freshman forward Isaiah Livers inbounded the ball with a baseball pass to Abdur-Rahkman, who turned at half court and tried to make a play.
Back then, he got into the paint and was fouled. This time, he was cut off by Houston defenders, and he had to dish it off to Poole.
And the fate of the entire season rested in the hands of the boisterous, inconsistent freshman from Milwaukee.
Even before that, it would have been hard to console Abdur-Rahkman with the hope that the play has worked before. Moments earlier, he missed a layup that would have tied the game with six seconds left. He kneeled under the basket after the whistle blew, watching his college career flash before his eyes, as the Cougars had a chance to ice the game away at the free-throw line.
“I think people were down. I especially was,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “But I’m a leader, so I have to keep that stale face and show strength. Coach (Beilein) was trying to boost us all up, because we were all kind of down. We thought it was over.”
Duncan Robinson was in a similar position. With 2:06 remaining, he was called for his fifth foul in a tie game. It was just the fourth time the fifth-year senior forward had fouled out in his Michigan career, yet there he was, walking to the bench for quite possibly the final time in his Michigan career.
Junior forward Moritz Wagner went over to Robinson and tried to tell him that this wouldn’t be his last time, that he had seen his team pull out close games before and that he was about to see it again. But it’s hard to believe at that point.
“Michigan’s done so much for me, and I just didn’t want to go out that way,” Robinson said. “You know, that second half I didn’t feel like I played well. I just — I want it more than anything for my teammates, my coaches, this fanbase, the whole University, and I didn’t want to go out like that. For a second there, you try not to go to that place mentally, but I was fighting it. I was fighting it.”
John Beilein might have been the only one who kept the faith. Maybe it was just the coach’s façade they must put up to keep their team calm, or maybe it was that he knew his end-of-game play had worked before.
Either way, after Abdur-Rahkman’s missed layup, he called his team over to talk about the situation. Beilein pointed to the clock. He was trying to get his team to believe that they had one last chance.
“We had a lot of time that we’ve been practicing the play,” Beilein said. “We decided we were going to run it. We had time.”
Added Livers: “He literally said, ‘Look. Look at that much time. That’s too much time. We’re good, we’re gonna go with that famous out-of-bounds play.’ He has a lot of trust in that play.”
But it isn’t just that the play had worked before or that the Wolverines have won close games before.
Jordan Poole has literally hit that shot before.
Just last week, when Michigan held an open scrimmage, Poole hit a game-winner from almost the same area of the floor.
“It’s like the same spot,” said fifth-year senior guard Jaaron Simmons. “That’s crazy to me. That’s crazy to me. But shoutout to JP, man.”
That’s not all, either. Livers says he’s seen Poole take the shot countless times before. In fact, he takes it at the end of his warm-up routine.
“I definitely just dream of shots like this,” Poole said. “I’m the one that, when the clock’s going down at shootaround, I’m the one dribbling and waiting to see if I can make the last shot. I missed it earlier when we were doing shootaround, but this last one I didn’t miss.”
There’s one more place you’ve seen that shot before. It’s in your dreams.
Any kid who has ever touched a basketball has taken that shot in their driveway. You count down the seconds in your head, like Poole at shootaround, and you wait until the last possible moment to heave it from deep and send your hypothetical team to a championship.
It isn’t the same, because Poole’s shot was real, but you’ve seen that shot before.
On Saturday night, Beilein called his go-to play with the season on the line, trying to salvage more time for Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson and the rest of this team.
Poole got the shot that he and so many others have dreamed about taking.
And despite everything going on around him, it was easy to see it go in.