NEW YORK — In a devastating twist of fate, Jon Horford missed the second free throw.
The redshirt sophomore center had converted the front end of a two-shot foul, but if he could revise fate, he’d surely have it the other way around in No. 3 Michigan’s 81-66 win over West Virginia at the Barclays Center.
With freshman Mitch McGary waiting on the floor at half court to check in with nine minutes left to go in the first half, the free throw stayed in play. Had it gone in, a whistle would have blown for the substitution.
Instead, the Mountaineers took it the other way, and Horford committed a foul, tumbling to the floor in the process. He lay writhing in pain outside of the left block, grimacing as trainers tended to him.
“He dislocated (his knee),” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “His kneecap came out. I don’t know the medical term, but it came back in. That’s the similar injury he had earlier in the year. So I don’t know how serious it is until they get a look at it.”
Horford had been sidelined with the knee injury during the preseason this year, but was healthy the whole regular season until this point.
And it wasn’t just this year that the Grand Ledge, Mich. native had been working to get back from an injury. Last year, after looking to play a significant role because of the Wolverines’ limited frontcourt depth, he broke his foot at nearly the same point of the season — Dec. 10 — and had to sit out the rest of the year.
With some luck, he won’t have to spend as much time immobilized, but the possibility lingers.
“We don’t know how serious it is, but we don’t expect him back quickly,” Beilein said.
The team understands what Horford has had to go through with his rehabilitation, forced to perform drills and practice in isolation last year with a bulky boot on his foot while dressing in sweaters and slacks to each game.
“We love Jon so much, everybody on this team,” Beilein said. “Jon will admit, he has a unique personality and everybody loves him so much and that’s what you tell him.
“He’s just got to keep battling and keep battling, but he’s made so many good strides, he’s worked so hard that better days are ahead and he’ll fight through this.”
Where redshirt junior Jordan Morgan averages 20 minutes a game, he had to play 31 on Saturday due to the injury. Suddenly, Michigan’s depth at post, which looked to be a strength, has been quickly diminished. McGary was only able to play 10 minutes, with two points and a rebound, while redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt sat out for the fourth straight game due to a sprained ankle sustained in practice Dec. 3.
“Mitch was in foul trouble and Max hasn’t played because of his injury since the Bradley game,” Beilein said. “Max will just move right in there. He’s really been playing well in practice, sort of been a logjam a little bit while he learns everything.”
The two-post offense, which Beilein had been toying with in the early third of the season, can still be done with the three remaining frontcourt players, but its flexibility takes a hit as Bielfeldt, largely unproven, would be critical as part of either the two big man lineup or as a substitute to enter afterwards and give Morgan and McGary a respite after their shift.
Even at Beilein’s most optimistic conjecture, Horford would be back in two or three weeks, possibly past the start of Big Ten play.
In the two non-conference games before that, and possibly beyond, Bielfeldt will step into Horford’s role.
“We feel bad for Jon, but are excited Max will have this opportunity,” Beilein said.