CHICAGO With 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State forward Gyasi Cline-Heard drove the final nail in the coffin of the Michigan basketball team”s season and perhaps Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe”s career with a layup off of a Brandon Watkins” missed jumper.
The shot gave the Nittany Lions an 82-80 victory, ending Michigan”s season. The Wolverines finished the year with a 10-18 overall record (4-12 Big Ten), the worst a Michigan team has finished since an 8-19 record in the 1981-82 season.
For Ellerbe, last night”s loss may have been his last on a Michigan sideline. For months, there has been speculation about the coach”s future. The Big Ten Tournament may have been his final chance to prove himself worthy to keep the job.
But now, Ellerbe must wait for Athletic Director Bill Martin to make a decision about his future. For the last few weeks, Martin has refused to comment on Ellerbe”s status, stating only that he would evaluate the men”s basketball program at the end of the year the same way that he evaluates all Michigan programs.
“We haven”t excelled the way we would like to the last four years. But we have been under some unexpected and different type situations,” Ellerbe said. “When we earned the job four years ago, Tom Goss provided me with a six-year contract understanding that no program, no coach, no department, no university could get through this situation. There are no quick fixes here I”ve got three years on my contract.”
Michigan had a chance to win at the end of last night”s game. With the score tied at 80, freshman Avery Queen drove the lane with the intention of dishing the ball to a teammate for a layup. But the ball was knocked off his leg and into the hands of Penn State forward Tyler Smith.
The Nittany Lions called a timeout with 7.6 seconds left and set up the eventual game-winning play.
“I was just trying to get in position,” Cline-Heard said of the final play. “When (Watkins) first shot it, I thought it was going in. When in came down, I was just in the right position at the right time.”
Michigan forward Chris Young, who was guarding Cline-Heard on the final play, took the loss particularly hard and blamed himself for allowing his man to get in position to make the final shot.
“I went up to (senior Josh Asselin), gave him a hug and apologized,” Young said. “I can”t believe I let him go out like this, letting Gyasi make that layup to end Josh”s season.”
After Penn State jumped out to an early lead, Michigan closed the first half with an 18-5 run to take a five-point lead into the break. But the Nittany Lions came out on fire in the second half, nailing five 3-pointers in the first nine minutes.
The Wolverines refused to give up and clawed their way back into the game with tenacious play in the paint. Michigan outscored Penn State 44-28 inside and dominated the play in the post at the end of both halves.
“It”s hard to look at the stat sheet and think we lost by two points,” Ellerbe said. “It”s a tough one to swallow.”
Penn State advances to the tournament quarterfinals to play No. 2 seed Michigan State. A win over the high-powered Spartans may be necessary for the Nittany Lions, a bubble team, to advance to the NCAA Tournament. “We”re trying to get into the tournament,” Cline-Heard said, “and every win counts.”