CHAMPAIGN — It felt like deja vu.
After coming from behind to force overtime in its second consecutive game, the Michigan men’s basketball team looked poised to walk out of Champaign with a win. The Wolverines — in a season full of ups and downs — appeared to have finally grown into their lofty standards. Because leading by seven points with 1:49 left in the game’s first overtime period, there was no way that Michigan could blow it, right?
Sitting with his back to the wall on a training table amid a herd of reporters in the bowels of State Farm Center after the game, junior center Hunter Dickinson proved they could indeed blow it — reflecting on the double-overtime thriller that slipped away from the Wolverines.
“It’s pretty, just, demoralizing,” Dickinson said. “Just seeing how well we played, we put ourselves in a position to win. I mean up seven in overtime, you can’t ask for a better situation to be in, but just didn’t make the plays down the stretch.”
Dickinson captured the essence of the game. After freshman wing Jett Howard knocked down a pair of free throws to give Michigan the seven-point lead in overtime, some orange-clad Fighting Illini fans even started making their way toward the exits.
But then, in a flash, the lead that the Wolverines built over the previous three minutes vanished.
Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. found nylon on a jumper seconds after Howard’s free throws — drawing contact in the process — before connecting on his accompanying trip to the charity stripe. Seven point lead, cut to just four.
The next trip down the floor, Michigan got the ball to Dickinson in the post. Scoring on his previous two shots in overtime, the man in the middle looked to take Illini forward Coleman Hawkins off the dribble after receiving the ball at halfcourt. Once Dickinson neared his sweet spot in the low post, though, his aggressiveness got the better of him, and he committed an offensive foul after Hawkins beat him to the spot.
“In terms of this game,” Dickinson said. “They just made a lot of really good plays, they made a lot of tough shots, made a lot of good moves. Sometimes that’s just the way basketball goes.”
After Dickinson’s offensive foul, Illinois scored twice more before time ran out. A Shannon and-1 with 24 seconds left tied the game at 81, and his missed free throw promised an extra overtime period after Michigan failed to capitalize on the last possession of the first overtime.
The Wolverines scrambled to recover from their sudden collapse, but couldn’t. Looking like a boxer who got unexpectedly rocked, Michigan staggered in the second overtime period, scraping together just six points in the five minutes — all via Dickinson.
With the seismic collapse complete, the Wolverines’ seven-point lead lay among the debris.
Michigan found a way to look on the brightside, though. It just took a quality Big Ten opponent to double overtime on the road — coming within a hair of winning. It got knocked down, which isn’t anything new.
“It just matters about how you bounce back,” Dickinson said. “That’s what separates the good from the great, the guys who took the hit on the chin, fell down, and got back up and kept fighting. For this team, we’ve been getting hit down all year. For us, just realizing that the season is not over.”
No overtime deja vu awaited the Wolverines in Champaign. They had a key road win in front of them.
Instead, they turned it into yet another knockdown.