By: Will Burchfield
With 5.8 seconds left and the scored tied at 69 between Michigan and Purdue, John Beilein called his Wolverines into the huddle and drew up a play to win the game.
At the same time, the referees gathered around the scoring table and consulted the replay monitor. Purdue coach Matt Painter had requested a video review after Michigan’s Charles Matthews had lost the ball on a drive to the basket.
Possession had initially been awarded to Michigan, but Painter, standing on the other end of the floor, wanted to make sure.
“I’m so far away from it, but you’re in that moment so you might as well ask,” said Painter, who said the play wouldn’t have gone to review otherwise. “We had to ask for it, they weren’t going to look. But I was just guessing. I had no idea.”
A minute passed, then two. Then a couple more, still without a decision from the officials. Eventually, Beilein asked one of them what was going on.
“I asked him why it was taking so long. I said, ‘If it’s taking so long then it must not be indisputable evidence, right?’ But we’ll see what it was,” said Beilein, who had yet to watch the replay before his post-game press conference.
After a nearly eight-minute review, the officials determined the ball last went off the hand of Matthews. Suddenly, Purdue had possession and a chance to win. Michigan scrambled to get in defensive mode.
“At that time you’re just thinking, ‘Okay, we got a foul to give and what do we have to do?'” Beilein said.
He decided to use that foul to disrupt Purdue’s push up the floor, but the Wolverines weren’t quite quick enough. They didn’t get their hands on the ball-handler until he was well past half court and approaching the Purdue sideline.
“We wanted to foul a little bit more at half court. We tried to and we missed him, and then we fouled him later on, so they had a pretty good play,” Beilien said.
On the ensuing inbound pass, Mo Wagner fouled Purdue center Isaac Haas with four seconds left. Haas went to the line and made the front end of a one-and-one. It would prove to be the difference in a 70-69 win for No. 5 Purdue.
“That’s the risk you run,” Painter said of Michigan burning its final foul. “I don’t foul a lot of times in that moment, and I get a lot of grief about it. People say, ‘You got a foul to give.’ But now you’re in the bonus the next foul, so if something happens like it did, now they’re shooting free throws.
“I’d rather kind of make them (score) at that point.”
After Haas missed his second shot, Matthews grabbed the rebound and advanced the ball up court, but his potential game-winning three clanked off the front rim.
Beilein said Michigan had a play ready if Haas had made the back end, but Matthews was forced to improvise.
“He has a habit of taking circuitous routes to the basket full court. He just arcs things,” Beilien said. “If you just go right through the court you can probably get the same shot we were going to get if I call timeout and run a full-court play.”
Michigan’s first chance to win the game came on its previous possession, with the score tied and the shot clock turned off. Rather than calling a timeout and setting up a play, which Purdue could have countered, Beilein let Matthews attack the basket.
“I didn’t want to call a play late because they blow up so many plays. That’s why we just get the ball to Charles’ hands, try to get him to the middle of floor…and just go. I just didn’t feel good in anything I was going to call. Matt’s really good at saying, ‘He ain’t touching the ball,’ and now you have to go somewhere else,” Beilein said.
It nearly worked, as Matthews had a step on his defender and a lane to the rim, but Purdue’s Dakota Mathias knocked the ball loose at the last moment.
“I thought he was going to go lay that ball in with five seconds left,” Beilein said. “He had leverage, he had everything. I don’t know where the ball got slapped down. (Matthews) said it did not go off him, but apparently it must have.”
Even after Matthews was denied, Beilein felt confident. 5.8 seconds remained and he believed it was Michigan’s ball.
“That’s enough time. I really was convinced we had a play set up where we were going to win the game,” Beilein said, shaking his head, “and all of a sudden they win the game.”
It was a tough one for the coach to swallow.
“You go through the emotions of having the ball with 25 seconds to go, to having the ball out of bounds with five seconds to go, and then not having the ball out of bounds, and then having a foul,” said Beilein. “But it’s part of the game, and we have to learn from it and get better from it.”
Painter said it reminded him of Michigan’s overtime win over Purdue in last year’s Big Ten tournament, only this time luck was on the Boilermakers’ side.
“We were just able to make a play. It barely hits his fingertip at the end, we get the ball back. It’s just lucky. You’re just fortunate to get a bounce, and we were able to get a bounce and get a victory,” he said.