ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan basketball team sees a chance to learn something tactical from a last-second loss.
But as far as recovering emotionally? That’s another lesson Michigan will have to learn in the wake of a 67-65 loss at Northwestern on Wednesday. Michigan (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten Conference) is still trying to process how a remarkable loss unfolded on a last-second layup by the Wildcats.
“It’s up there,” Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. said Friday, describing the difficulty of the defeat. “I was involved in the direct play. It was tough. I took it hard. It’s one of those things, I think, five more minutes of basketball we could have taken care of what we needed to take care of. But that’s high up there on my list all-time (of losses).”
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 2, 2017
During a film session on Friday, in preparation for Michigan’s final regular-season game at 8 p.m. ET Sunday at Nebraska, Wolverines coach John Beilein watched the final play again and again. He attempted to glean teaching points from the breakdown — one that he said he couldn’t see during the final 1.7 seconds at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.
In that time — about the time it takes to open a can of soda or to flush a toilet — Northwestern’s Nathan Taphorn threw an inbounds pass over Michigan’s Mark Donnal and the length of the court to Dererk Pardon, who caught the pass as he stepped into the paint. Pardon made a layup behind Walton and D.J. Wilson, who also attempted to defend on the play.
Wilson, Beilein said Wednesday after the loss, was originally set to defend Taphorn, but Michigan switched Donnal for Wilson after a timeout.
“The bad thing is, you can’t see any of the action at half-court,” Beilein said Friday. “On my end or the TV, you can’t see it. You can only see the pass and they foul it, and I cannot see what happens. I wanted to make sure Mark was getting pressure on the ball, and by the time I looked to see what Mark was doing, and he had moved way back, the ball was in the air and I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ We have a back-of-the-end-zone catch going here, with a jump ball, Hail Mary-type of thing and we’re in trouble. And I could see that, what had happened.”
If Beilein lamented the switch, he wasn’t showing it. Instead, he took a proactive approach to the game-winning play.
“I thought, ‘We’re going to re-create that,’ ” Beilein said before practice Friday. “I want to see what happened. I still don’t know what happened in the switch.”
Walton pinpointed one thing that happened.
“Miscommunication,” Walton said. “And a great pass. Great defense, but it was a better offense. They threw the ball, it was a rope, and he caught it and drove it. As much as possible, I couldn’t cut to the turning guy but the pass was the biggest difference.”
Beilein couldn’t help but think about other instances when he’s seen something similar happen to his teams.
“We’ve probably had 20 of those go either way over time,” Michigan’s 10th-year coach said. “I’ve had everything. Up two with an 80 percent foul shooter at the line, and a guy made one from three-quarters of the court. SMU, a long time ago. There’s just some things where you say, ‘What could we have done better earlier in the game to make it different?’
“There’s great teaching moments in it. You can tell by their emotions how difficult that was for them,” Beilein said. “And that’s our job as coaches right now. Don’t say, ‘OK, it’ll get better the next day.’ You say, ‘Here’s the plan for us to make it better the next day.’ ”
Talk of the final play of the loss at Northwestern, however, remains unavoidable. Replays of the play dominated sports highlight reels well into Thursday morning. Taphorn and Pardon were interviewed on ESPN’s SportsCenter Thursday morning. Beilein joked that nobody reached out to him immediately after the loss.
“I think people know me well enough to stay the hell away from me after games like that,” Beilein said.
But in the unavoidable realm of instant communication nowadays, Walton couldn’t escape the postgame surge of tweets, texts and messages about one of the more remarkable endings of this college basketball season.
“I know my phone was a little hectic,” Walton said. “But a lot of guys just said, ‘It’s a tough break,’ or ‘Stuff like that doesn’t happen every time.’ It just so happened to happen that game. As far as feedback, I didn’t get too much. The Twitter people, they do what they do, but everybody’s an expert when they’ve got a platform. But it’s OK.”