It seemed fitting.
Seniors and roommates Courtney Sims and Dion Harris have underachieved throughout their entire careers.
Highly recruited out of high school, both had become known better for failing to reach their potential than for exceeding or even consistently meeting expectations.
And on Senior Day, after a 15-minute presentation honoring them and their contribution to Michigan over the past four years, they both came up short yet again.
With just one minute remaining and the Wolverines trailing to the top-ranked Buckeyes by two on Saturday, Sims bounced a dunk off the back of the rim.
Known for his inability to finish strong, Sims missed the easy finish.
But then Ohio State turned the ball over and Harris had a chance of his own.
He drove the lane hard and forced a Buckeye foul. Sent to the line with an opportunity to tie the game, Harris missed the front end of a 1-and-1. The guard, who has struggled to find his niche on the team throughout his career, couldn’t find the net on a crucial free throw in his final regular-season home game.
Ohio State grabbed the rebound. When the game ended just moments later, it had snatched any of Michigan’s remaining NCAA Tournament hopes along with it.
Sims and Harris talked before the season about their legacy, the lasting impression they would leave on the program. Both envisioned a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The images that most will remember are the botched dunk and the blown free throw.
But that isn’t fair.
People constantly criticize Sims for having no passion. People say he slacks off, he pouts, he avoids contact and that he doesn’t show up in big games.
But when he was benched following a loss to Michigan State, Sims did none of those things. He scored 13 points in the next game against then-No. 24 Indiana and posted a double-double in last Tuesday’s win over Michigan State.
The center continued the new trend yesterday.
He went toe-to-toe with the likely no. 1-overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft for the entire contest. Greg Oden was clearly the superior talent, but Sims held his own. He looked for contact against Oden and demanded the ball when his opponent had four fouls. He aggressively pursued rebounds and loose balls. He scored 11 big points against the No. 1 team in the nation.
It would be an even bigger mistake to remember Harris for his miscue. The Detroit native has carried the Wolverines all season long. He is the consistent go-to scorer, the guy who provides a big shot or play whenever Michigan needed it.
When the season looked lost after a four-game losing streak, Harris scored 14 points in the first half of the Minnesota victory Feb. 10. He had 16 in the win over the Hoosiers and 24 in Tuesday’s victory against the Spartans.
It’s safe to say the Wolverines wouldn’t have won any of those games without him.
Harris was the same yesterday. He hit the first basket of the game, a baseline 3-pointer. He extended the lead to five just before the half, stopping a Buckeye run. He hit a 3-pointer just after halftime when an Oden bucket cut the margin to one. And he finished with a game-high 19 points.
Yes, Michigan blew the game. The Wolverines were up six with four minutes to go at home, with a chance to plant themselves firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and didn’t score again. Yes, Harris and Sims were the main culprits, the easy scapegoats.
You can remember the missed dunk and free throw as the reason Michigan won’t make the tournament if you want. You can remember those plays as symbolic of the disappointing careers Harris and Sims had as Wolverines. Many will.
But if you do, also remember that the only reason that those plays mattered was because of the earlier play of Harris and Sims. Remember that the only reason this game mattered was because of their play late in the season.
And remember that they are the reason you were on your feet with your heart racing as the Michigan basketball team almost pulled off an incredible upset of the no. 1 team in the nation in the final game of the season.
– Bromwich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.