Junior guard Spike Albrecht stood near center court waiting to be interviewed, with “One Shining Moment” blaring through the speakers and thousands of fans filing out of Crisler Center.
It’s a scene normally reserved for the National Championship Game, a stage on which Albrecht has already had a shining moment.
But in the final minute of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 68-65 win over Syracuse, Albrecht hit a cold-blooded 3-pointer, putting an exclamation point on a stellar performance. Apparently, he inspired the arena’s public-address operator to play a song normally reserved for the season’s defining game.
It was that clutch.
With only a minute remaining, the Orange had just gone on a 15-5 run to erase Michigan’s 10-point lead.
Rakeem Christmas, the hulking Syracuse center who pestered the Wolverines for most of the game, finished an uncontested layup to tie the game at 63. The once-deafening Maize Rage fell silent.
Michigan coach John Beilein called timeout, gathered his players, and broke down his plan to beat the Orange’s 2-3 zone.
After Albrecht brought the ball up, the Wolverines ran the same offensive set that had been working for them the entire second half. Albrecht and sophomore Derrick Walton Jr. stayed high and cycled the ball back and forth with sophomore forward Zak Irvin.
“It’s really hard to go to somebody against that zone,” Beilein said. “We try to get an action that would allow them to either get a ball screen, or I urged them to move in. Sometimes we attack the zone from too far out, so somebody’s going to have to make a big shot.”
That somebody was Albrecht. When Walton finally drove into the lane, he pivoted and found Albrecht, whose 3-point attempt rolled around the rim before falling. When it finally dropped, the crowd exploded.
“I don’t know how he found me,” Albrecht said. “I was little nervous (about the shot falling) — it did the little ‘toilet bowl’ action on me.”
The Wolverines missed front-ends on consecutive 1-and-1 free throw attempts on the next two trips down the floor after Albrecht’s 3-pointer. After the second of those missed chances, with Syracuse carrying the ball down low, Albrecht did just enough on defense to disrupt Orange guard Trevor Cooney.
Cooney couldn’t control the ball, turning it over to junior guard Caris LeVert.
It was a veteran defense from one of the Wolverines’ most seasoned payers.
Last season against Iowa, Albrecht filled in for a flu-stricken Walton and played admirably, scoring seven points and seven assists. He earned praise then for simply keeping the offense on track.
Tuesday, he was even better.
All game, Albrecht ran the Michigan point coolly and effectively. He dished out nine assists and didn’t turn the ball over once. And with Walton limited by a sprained toe, that was imperative for Michigan to come out on top.
“I really had no idea what was going to happen (with Walton),” Albrecht said. “I just prepared like every day — went out there and worked hard. We didn’t know Derrick’s situation, but he was able to come out and contribute a lot tonight to impact the game.
Beilein said the junior has exceptional vision against zones. And with zero turnovers against a scheme known to break the rhythm of pass-first guards, Albrecht backed it up.
While he was hyper-efficient distributing the ball, he also made time for some flash.
Driving to the basket early in the second half, Albrecht whipped a behind-the-back pass to freshman forward Ricky Doyle, who posterized an Orange defender.
“I was pumped,” Doyle said. “He’s pretty good at dumping it off, so I was just having my hands ready and I was just expecting anything to come at me.”
Doyle’s dunk might have been the highlight of the night were it not for Albrecht’s late three. But in Albrecht’s shining night, a behind-the-back assist was just a twinkle.