INDIANAPOLIS ⎯ It may have been the Michigan men’s basketball team’s best game this season.
And it may have been the most important shot of Manny Harris’s career, when he gave Michigan the lead with 2.2 seconds left.
But when all is said and done, the only things that will be remembered from Friday’s heartbreaking loss to Ohio State are Evan Turner’s 37-foot shot to win the game at the buzzer and Michigan coach John Beilein’s decision not to press on the inbounds pass.
Despite the decision, Beilein vehemently defended the move not to double-team or front Turner ⎯ the Big Ten Player of the Year ⎯ in the backcourt.
“I don’t think Evan Turner is going to hit a half-court shot better than anybody else is going to hit a half-court shot. We wanted to limit that type of opportunity” Beilein said. “If it was in quarter-court, there’s a whole different defense you’re going to play. But when you’ve got to make a half-court shot, it’s a lot different.”
On the play, Ohio State’s David Lighty inbounded the ball to Turner, who took two dribbles down the right side of the court before spotting up midway between half-court and the three-point line and hitting the now-infamous shot that ended Michigan’s season.
The shot was reviewed to see if Turner had released it in time, but after a meeting at the scorer’s table, the referees ruled that the ball was out of his hands with .2 seconds left on the clock.
Immediately after the game, ESPN commentators criticized Beilein’s move to play passive zone defense against Ohio State’s top scorer and a leading candidate for the National Player of the Year.
But Michigan’s players defended their coach in giving up the potential half-court shot instead of risking a defensive breakdown near the basket with fewer men defending in the frontcourt ⎯ similar to Christian Laettner’s miracle buzzer-beating shot for Duke in the 1992 NCAA Tournament.
“Coach drew up a defensive scheme,” Harris said. “I guess everyone just thought, there’s no way he’s going to make a half-court shot, and he did. I know coach probably was thinking, it would just be incredible, crazy for someone to make a half-court shot the way the game had been going right then. But he did. A lot of credit to him. … Great players make great shots, and he did that.”
One of the reasons the Wolverines didn’t want to double-team Turner was the potential that he could blow by the defender and get a wide-open shot or find an open teammate with the defense spread thin.
“We just wanted to stay with them, stay in front of him, make sure he had to take a contested shot and make sure they didn’t get any threes off,” Michigan sophomore Zack Novak said. “He hit a heck of a shot.”
Even Ohio State’s players were surprised that Michigan didn’t throw a double-team at Turner.
“I was sprinting behind him as fast as I could, because I thought they were going to double-team him, so I thought I was going to be open,” Lighty said. “But when it left his hands, it just felt like it was floating up there forever pretty much, and when it went in, I felt like I was at a loss for words pretty much.”
It appeared that teams quickly learned not to follow Michigan’s lead. Later that night at the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State pressured Minnesota on it’s last second chance to win in regulation with five seconds left, and the shot from near half-court fell wide left.
Right or wrong, Beilein will be criticized for the coaching decision that ended Michigan’s season.
“Some things that you can’t always control happen to you,” Beilein said. “It’s certainly indicative of some things that happened.”