INDIANAPOLIS — Two point two. Two and two-tenths. 2.2.
It’s a number that’s going to haunt the Michigan men’s basketball team and the entire Wolverine fanbase during a painfully long offseason.
It’s a reminder of just how close Michigan came to upsetting the No. 5 team in the nation, Ohio State, and continuing its run in the Big Ten Tournament, and perhaps winning it.
It’s a reminder of coaching imperfection.
And it’s also a reminder that, for every ridiculous SportsCenter buzzer-beater highlight, there’s the other team, the one on the losing end. The one poised for a big win. You know, the team sitting shell-shocked on the bench while players like Evan Turner are mobbed, cheered and deified.
Maybe Michigan didn’t deserve to win Friday’s quarterfinal game, but you can’t tell me they deserved to lose that way. After every painful loss these players and coaches have been through this season, they didn’t deserve this. After clawing back from a 13-point deficit, after building a two-point lead, they didn’t deserve the heartbreak they endured.
“I was hoping that a miracle would happen, where it’d say ‘basket no good,’ ” Manny Harris said after the game. He wasn’t the only one praying during the brief official review at the end of the game, which ultimately confirmed that Turner released his 37-foot game-winner with two-tenths of a second to spare. Basket good. Michigan crushed.
But even though there seemed to be no good reason for the Wolverines’ season to end, there was a reason for what happened in the game’s final moments.
Was Michigan coach John Beilein’s peculiar defensive strategy in the final 2.2 seconds the most disappointing part? No full-court press? No defensive pressure at all? Why not double-team Turner, a national Player of the Year candidate?
“They gave me one good look,” Turner said afterward. “I guess being open, it felt a little bit free. I had a lot of time to shoot the ball. I felt like I was in the gym by myself.”
Turner is right — Michigan gave him a better-than-he-should-have-had chance to win the game.
But I have a hard time siding with those who want to bury Beilein for that defensive lapse. A 37-footer, no matter who shoots it, is not a guaranteed shot. He said after the game that he didn’t think Turner’s chances of hitting a half-court shot were any better than his teammates’ chances.
“We wanted to limit that type of opportunity,” Beilein said. “So we matched it up in a zone that whatever area people went to was going to be a one dribble. Either one or two guys were going to be in front of him. … If you try to put two guys on Evan or you try to deny him by throwing over the top, then he even can get closer. So it’s six of one, half dozen of the other; a half-court shot is a half-court shot.”
In the postgame locker room, Harris referred to Turner’s basket as “incredible” over and over again. He said nobody expected the 37-footer to fall — I certainly didn’t — but as Turner released the shot, I knew, like so many in Conseco Fieldhouse, that after a half-second that felt like an eternity, it was going to go in.
Beilein’s not perfect, just like any other college basketball coach. Should he have pressed? Should he have, at the very least, pressured the inbounds play? Yes, of course.
But Beilein had a reason for his defensive setup, even if others don’t agree.
And even taking the game’s final 2.2 seconds into consideration, Friday showed exactly why the Wolverines’ season should still be going.
Michigan’s two stars, Harris and senior forward DeShawn Sims, combined for 42 points, and the team finally found a third scoring threat, Stu Douglass, who put up 16 points of his own. Harris was electric down the stretch, singlehandedly pulling the Wolverines back into the game.
Friday’s loss was, at the same time, the epitome of the Wolverines’ potential this year and all the misfortune they’ve suffered.
“That’s a great … microcosm of the season,” Beilein said. “That’s a little bit of the frustration that we have this year. Some things that you can’t always control happen to you. It’s certainly indicative of some things that happened.”
And it shouldn’t have been over. If Turner’s shot clanged off the rim, Michigan would have next faced Illinois, and then Minnesota after that. Sure, winning four games in four days would have been a tall task for a Wolverine squad that’s been inconsistent all season.
But boy, would it have been great to see them try.
— Auerbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.