MINNEAPOLIS — Down three with the final seconds ticking away, Duncan Robinson had nowhere to go.
The redshirt junior wing — one of Michigan’s most reliable 3-point shooters — was double-teamed behind the arc, and had no choice but to pass the ball to an open DJ Wilson positioned 30-feet from the basket.
With limited time and options, the redshirt sophomore forward could only square up and cue up his best stroke from well beyond the 3-point line in NBA range.
To the surprise of everyone in Williams Arena, Wilson’s shot found nothing but net.
It looked like Michigan would be able to grab momentum heading into overtime and turn its comeback into a memorable victory.
“It wasn’t drawn up for me at all,” Wilson said. “It was drawn up for (Robinson). They did a great job as far as running him off the line. I ran to the back of him, and he pitched it back. I thought about it for a second and looked at the clock and let it go, and it went in.”
But what may have been dubbed the “Miracle in Minnesota” wasn’t to be, as the Golden Gophers outscored the Wolverines 11-6 in the extra period to pull out the 83-78 win.
“Time and time again, this team has a resiliency about it,” said senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. “We thought once it got to overtime, the game was ours. We were making the right plays, and down the stretch, even though a lot of stuff didn’t go our way, we still got a chance to win.”
Junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman gave Michigan its only overtime lead with a 3-pointer 1:42 into overtime, but he also missed two consecutive free throws with 1:40 remaining that would have put the Wolverines back on top.
Abdur-Rahkman’s misses encapsulated Michigan’s uncharacteristic struggles from the free-throw line Sunday night. The Wolverines shot just 50 percent from the charity stripe despite entering the game with the second-highest free-throw percentage in the conference at 77.8 percent.
In a contest with 18 lead changes and eight ties, there was never a moment when either team felt it had fallen too far behind. But for a moment, Michigan’s coaching staff appeared to have lost its collective mind, and may have ultimately lost the Wolverines the game.
With 4:39 to go, senior forward Mark Donnal was called for a controversial defensive foul at the top of the key. In disbelief, Michigan coach John Beilein and his assistants appeared to have crossed the technical area while chasing after the referees for an explanation and were called for a technical foul.
Following the technical, Minnesota gained its biggest lead of the night — eight points — on a stretch that included four free throws directly after the call on Michigan’s sideline and a four-point play.
Michigan, though, showed no quit and continued to try and find a way to fight back, with Walton leading the way. Eight of Walton’s 16 points came with under four minutes to play in regulation, as he once again attempted to will his team out of a deficit late in a game. He and Wilson combined to score 15 of Michigan’s final 17 points in the fourth quarter to extend the game for another five minutes.
“Everybody on the team loves the moment,” Walton said. “The moment was there, so everybody wanted to step into it. I couldn’t be more happy for (Wilson) for making those big shots to even give us a fighting chance after so much didn’t go our way.”
In the extra period, Walton had the Wolverines’ best opportunity to send the game into a second overtime. With Michigan facing yet another three point deficit and the final seconds of the first overtime winding down, Walton had an open look from just beyond the arc.
His shot looked just as clean as Wilson’s, but it ended up rimming out with multiple Golden Gophers below the rim to grab the ensuing rebound. Minnesota made its free throws, and that was enough for the Golden Gophers to put away the Wolverines.
“Of course I wanted to take the shot, but it was about taking what the defense gave me,” Walton said. “Most of the guys were into (Wilson), so I had a clean look. It felt like one of the better shots I had taken all night. It rimmed out. That’s all I can say about it.”
With Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State and Northwestern all emerging in recent weeks as contestants to fight for fourth place in the Big Ten and final double-bye in the conference tournament, Sunday’s game will go a long way in shaping that race.
Though Wilson’s heroics may have increased the Wolverines’ chances to get the win and pull into pole position, Michigan’s poor free-throw shooting was the loose string that led to the Wolverines’ undoing in Minneapolis.
“We wanted to win so bad and everybody showed that,” Walton said. “We showed a different type of resiliency and fight that I think we should carry over going forward.”