Michigan stood on the cusp of disaster, and Ignas Brazdeikis started a drive. When he finished it, things hadn’t gotten much better — a layup attempt falling short, the game still tied, a double-digit lead still blown, overtime still waiting with two seconds to go.
Amid the ensuing scramble, the ball found its way to Charles Matthews. The redshirt junior hung in the air, releasing a desperate floater. As the buzzer sounded, it somehow found nylon, and after a lengthy review, it somehow stood.
“I know Iggy. That’s my little brother,” a subdued Matthews said after the game. “He’s like a bull in the china shop when he’s going to the rim. So he ain’t looking to kick out. So I just said, ‘You know what, he might miss this one, let me try to just go get the rebound.’ And thank god I was in the right position for it.
“Gotta know your teammates. Know your personnel.”
This was as close to a catastrophe as you could have gotten. But thanks to Matthews’ buzzer-beater, No. 5 Michigan (18-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) left Crisler Center with a 59-57 win over Minnesota (14-5, 4-4) on Tuesday, narrowly avoiding a second-straight loss.
Thirty seconds before Matthews ended the game, the Gophers’ Gabe Kalscheur tied it with a 3-pointer. Minutes earlier, the Wolverines held a double-digit lead.
And, even after Minnesota cut a 10-point lead to six with 2:22 to go, it sent sophomore guard Jordan Poole to the free throw line with a chance to put any worry to rest. He proceeded to miss two free throws, setting the stage for a near-collapse.
“Usually, we all have a saying,” Matthews said. “We usually come out to the game looking, we be like, ‘Alright, let’s run ‘em out the gym.’ And we usually put our foot on their neck and touch it to the floor. But this game, they made some big shots.”
After a poor offensive showing on Saturday, things weren’t much better on Tuesday, as the Wolverines shot just 3-of-22 from deep and 33.9 percent from the field. Brazdeikis and junior center Jon Teske, who finished with 18 and 15 points, respectively, were relied upon to carry the load, as no other player had more than seven.
And still, earlier on in the second half, the game seemed all but over.
After Minnesota took a three-point lead into halftime, Brazdeikis broke out of his slump, keying a run that saw him score eight of his 18 points on the day. The Wolverines proceeded to take their first lead of the game, 39-37, on a running sky-hook from sophomore guard Zavier Simpson.
That lead would grow as high as 13 points with under 10 minutes to go — and Michigan seemed on its way to a relaxing home win.
Far from it.
“We’ve got to grow a lot,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “13-point lead late, and how many times do you see that happen at Michigan where we let it go like that? Continue to teach these guys what it takes to win games like that because that could’ve went the other way.
“I mean, that wouldn’t have been a devastating loss, but you’re up by that amount and we don’t make foul shots and we also don’t execute on offense, we don’t share the ball the way we need to share it, you can get beat. Defensive transition, everybody watching, those are tough things for us.”
A few minutes later, Beilein was asked if he expected more growth after the Wolverines suffered their first loss.
“I was,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed.”