BY BENJAMIN SZILAGY, Staff Reporter
After an historic day of upsets in the NCAA tournament, Michigan found itself a part of the group of teams that would fly home early from March Madness.
The Wolverines’ season ended rather abruptly after they fell to Ohio University, 65-60, in Nashville Friday night when D.J. Cooper and the Bobcats seized the opportunity.
“We’re playing our best basketball of the year, no doubt about that,” said Ohio coach John Groce.
The Bobcats kept the Wolverines at bay early and often, getting key shots by Cooper (21 points) and Walter Offutt (11 points). Down six with about four minutes to play, co-Big Ten freshman of the year Trey Burke nailed a three pointer to cut the lead to 63-60.
The Wolverines, who struggled shooting the ball all game, needed a two and a stop to take control of the game, but that never happened. In the closing minutes, Michigan settled for three-pointers. Six of the seven shots taken were launched from the arc; four of them were launched by Burke.
“We were really emphasizing (that) this doesn’t have to be a 3-point game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Could we have gotten more open looks? Well, time would have told, but those were the choices he made, and we live with them.”
While the loss stings for Michigan fans, the loss hurts even more for senior captains Zack Novak and Stu Douglass.
“I haven’t cried over a basketball game since I got knocked out in high school,” said Douglass. “So that kind of paints the picture for you. I still can’t believe what happened. We played a great team, but in our minds, in my mind, the way it played out over and over again in my head, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It’s going to be a hard thing to face for a few days.”
“I’m trying to censor how I’m feeling,” Novak said. ”I don’t even know how to describe it. We left some opportunities out there tonight. That makes it sting a little bit more. We really thought we had a team to make a run this year, and I still think…Any other night, you know? It could happen. But that’s why March is crazy.”
Experts warned Michigan fans that an upset was possible. That didn’t help lessen the blow in the locker room. After the game, players wore their hearts on their sleeves. It was extremely evident that tears were shed and hearts were broken.
The Wolverines were tri-champions in the Big Ten, sharing the title with Michigan State and Ohio State, their first title in 26 years. The foundation is there and players that remain on the roster, like Jordan Morgan, vowed this run is only the beginning.
“It’s not going to happen like this again,” Morgan said. “I know me and the leaders we’ve still got on this team. We’re not going to let it happen again…We’ve worked too hard. We’ve worked way too hard in the offseason, way too hard in practice. We start back up again in these workouts, and it’s not going to happen like this again.”
Michigan does bring back a very strong core of players next season. Jordon Morgan, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz, and Trey Burke are all assumed to be back next season barring any unforeseen departures to the NBA.
Michigan also gets a key big man returning to action. For most of the season, Jon Horford was sidelined with a foot injury. Even though he could have returned in February, Horford was held out by coaches, ensuring he’d be redshirted this season. Last year Horford contributed to the Wolverines in key moments off the bench.
If incoming freshman Mitch McGary can be as impactful as Cody Zeller was for Indiana, Michigan will be just as formidable, if not more so, as this past year. Michigan can move Horford to power-forward, and move Smotrycz to small forward, a more natural position. This means that the back-court would consist of Hardaway Jr. and Burke, who already have established a rapport this season.
Couple that with two more incoming freshman, Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III (son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson) and another redshirt forward Max Bielfeldt, and Blake McLimans, a seasoned player in his own right, Michigan will be just fine with the foundation Douglass and Novak left in their wake.