ANN ARBOR, Mich. — You’re down 2 points with 3.6 seconds left to play, and 94 feet between you — ball in hand — and the opposite basket that ball needs to go through.
The odds of winning that game are certainly not in your favor. But that’s exactly what Michigan did against Houston on Saturday night in Wichita, Kan. The Wolverines pulled out an improbable 64-63 victory on freshman Jordan Poole’s 3-point jump shot that beat the final buzzer and advanced them to the Sweet 16 of the West Regional. Third-seeded Michigan will face 7-seed Texas A&M on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
— Overtime (@overtime) March 18, 2018
Maybe it wasn’t as improbable as it seems. Poole had made a shot like that in high school last year, including kicking out his legs a la Reggie Miller in the hopes of being fouled.
It wasn’t the first time Michigan found itself in this sort of situation this season, either. Nor was it the first time the Wolverines won a game by executing in the clutch. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was the point man against Houston who got the ball to Poole after receiving the inbounds pass from freshman Isaiah Livers. On Jan. 15, Abdur-Rahkman kept the ball, drove to the basket and was fouled with 1.2 seconds left with Michigan trailing Maryland 67-66 at Crisler Center.
Here’s the final play drawn up by John Beilein out of the timeout. Used Charles Matthews to clear out the middle and draw defenders, then sent Abdur-Rahkman through for the catch and drive. pic.twitter.com/DgGdisCTdZ
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 16, 2018
He made both free throws and the Wolverines won the game 68-67. Six days before that, Charles Matthews’ 3-point heave from a couple steps inside the half-court line against Purdue hit off the front inside lip of the rim at Crisler Center and bounced off as the Boilermakers handed Michigan its lone home loss of the season, 70-69.
“Before the Maryland game we rarely practiced it but now that it happened we practice it almost every practice, especially the day before games,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “You can’t predetermine what you’re going to do. You never know how the defense is going to play you, so you’ve got to have different options and be ready to fulfill those different options.”
This NCAA Tournament is filled with games coming down to the wire. Houston beat San Diego State in the first round on a last-second layup by guard Rob Gray. Loyola-Chicago has knocked off higher-seeded teams Miami and Tennessee by hitting late field goals. Michigan State had one final shot to survive against Syracuse on Sunday, but Cassius Winston’s final desperation heave was well off the mark. The Spartans didn’t have any time outs remaining and only 2.1 seconds to work with, making their attempt tougher.
“You try to get it as close as you can so you can try to get it off,” Winston said.
.@Cuse_MBB WINS! 🍊
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2018
That doesn’t mean what the Wolverines did was easy. It was practiced.
Former Wolverines guard and current ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose loved what he didn’t see on that play.
“I didn’t see any panic out of the team,” Rose told Land of 10. “Repetition, confidence, patience and also how about when you look at the mechanics of the shot, the end-of-game winner? There’s a video of him making the same shot from almost the same spot in high school. I think all of that was in that play. Then there’s a belief in the coaching staff and in the team that we’re going to run a set play and we’re going to get a quality look.”
Poole met with the media on Tuesday wearing protective sports googles. He said he got poked in the eye against Houston and it has bothered him the last couple of days. It obviously wasn’t much of a nuisance on that final play Saturday night.
“That’s all in Coach B’s hands,” Poole said of John Beilein. “He knows how to manage his timeouts well and he knows how to put us in a really good situation. By us having a timeout to spare, we were able to come over to the bench and draw up a play. It’s amazing.”