What if.

That pesky idea has hovered over the Michigan basketball program in recent years.

And yesterday’s 65-61 loss to No. 1 Ohio State was no different.

The Wolverines had their chances down the stretch, yet couldn’t make the plays or shots they needed in the closing minutes to come away with the upset.

Michigan sprung Dion Harris for a 3-pointer with the score tied at 61 with two minutes remaining. The senior’s shot bounced in and out, and Ohio State took the rebound the other way for a Jamar Butler hoop that gave the Buckeyes their first lead since the opening minutes of the second half.

The Wolverines appeared to have the answer on their next possession when Brent Petway found Courtney Sims alone under the rim. But the senior’s dunk hit off the back rim – another missed opportunity.

After Michigan’s defense stopped the Buckeyes, Harris drew a foul and went to the line for a one-and-one situation. The 86 percent free throw shooter came up short on his first attempt, leaving the Wolverines down two.

Needing a stop and a score in the final minute, Michigan failed to corral the rebound on the ensuing possession, and Butler calmly sank a pair of free throws to ice the game after being fouled, as disappointing fans headed for the exits with ten seconds remaining.

The closing minutes soured what for so long seemed to be a huge Michigan victory in the making. The importance of knocking off the nation’s top team coupled with the emotion of Senior Day would have been a fitting way for Wolverine seniors Harris, Petway, Sims and Lester Abram to say goodbye to Crisler Arena. Instead, barring an improbable run in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, the team will be back at Crisler the following week to compete in the NIT.

The magnitude of the game was evident from the outset. Harris sank a show from downtown for three of his game-high 19 points, as Michigan (8-8 Big Ten, 20-11 overall) jumped out to a quick lead with its four seniors starting the game.

But it wasn’t until early in the second half that everyone got a taste of just how badly Michigan coach Tommy Amaker wanted this game.

First, Michigan drew what appeared to be Greg Oden’s third foul, but the official assigned the foul to Ohio State’ s Ivan Harris instead. On the next possession, Harris drove right at the Buckeyes’ 7-foot freshman phenom and drew contact without a call. Following that, Sims attacked the basket. Again there was contact but no whistle.

That was all Amaker needed to see. Feeling his team wasn’t getting its fair shake around the rim, the normally reserved and seemingly always collected Amaker immediately jumped in the official’s face and drew his first technical foul of the season.

Amaker’s outburst energized the team and Michigan responded with a 14-6 run for a 51-44 lead with nine minutes remaining.

Ohio State (15-1, 27-3) countered thanks to six of Oden’s team-high 16 points, and tied the game at 55.

Michigan came right back with a Jerret Smith triple and three-point play from Sims to regain control, 61-55, with four minutes left in front of the raucous Crisler faithful.

But the fans’ faith quickly turned to despair. Ohio State clawed back again with the game’s final 10 points, and this time, the Wolverines were out of answers.

And once again, all that Michigan can do now is sat back and think “what if.”

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