In the end it was the winning plays. Michigan thought it had eliminated those mistakes — the same ones that plagued them in frustrating defeats earlier in the season — but they returned in worst of times and ended the season.
The Wolverines got heroic performances out of their senior leaders in the final game of their careers. Derrick Walton had 20 points and 8 assists while Irvin added 19 points.
They made 6 of Michigan’s final 7 shots on the night, willing the Wolverines to a late 68-65 lead. But the last one — a Derrick Walton step-back jumper for the win — was short and the season was over.
Michigan’s offense never seemed to get comfortable against the switching looks of Oregon’s defense. As advertised, Dana Altman shifted between soft presses, zone and man-to-man defense. Michigan willed its way to 1.03 points per possession, but every basket felt like a significant challenge. There were probably 7 or 8 possessions in the game where Michigan just never got into its offense early enough or ended up with a forced contested shot late in the clock. The Wolverines also turned the ball over 7 times in the first half (and once in the second).
The Wolverines were flustered by Jordan Bell’s presence around the rim (It’s crazy to think that about what the Ducks would look like with Chris Boucher — a better shot blocker — next to Bell). He played 32 minutes and blocked two shots but he altered easily a half-dozen more. The Wolverines just weren’t comfortable finishing near the rim — Oregon outscored Michigan 34-16 in the paint — and although they made 52% of their twos, they left some easy ones on the board.
Michigan’s defense held Oregon to 1.05 points per trip and going into the game that probably would have sounded good enough to win. The Ducks made just 44% of their twos, but hit 8 crucial three-pointers on just 17 attempts. The Wolverines contained Brooks (12 points on 13 shots), but Tyler Dorsey made 5-of-7 threes and hit the game-winning shot — he was the difference.
Both teams focused on getting back in transition rather than crashing the glass, but Michigan will only remember one of Oregon’s 6 offensive boards forever: the missed free throw that Jordan Bell secured over DJ Wilson. That putback gave the Ducks life when it felt like Michigan could have put the game away with a rebound and one more basket.
The Wolverines never scored again, the Ducks did. And that was Michigan’s season.
Michigan lost three games — by a combined 8 points with one in overtime — since Derrick Walton stood in front of the media and said that Michigan would turn its season after the home loss to Ohio State. What was supposed to be the day the season died was the day it came alive.
This run was special, but it wasn’t magic. This was a good team that put everything together and played great basketball down the stretch. We’ll dissect the season over the coming days and weeks, but this was a a group that reached a ceiling — a shot away from the Elite Eight — that very few could have imagined in November, January, February, or even early March. A season defined by two seniors, but one that will always be marred with the what-if of Walton’s final shot.
- Derrick Walton: We’ll look back and admire Walton’s run through February and March as any that I can remember by a Michigan player. He put Michigan on his back, then grabbed the luggage, and carried the team to this point. It was bittersweet to see that final shot fall short, but he left it all on the floor one more time. It was an up-and-down journey for the 6-foot-1 point guard who committed to Michigan almost 6 years ago, but he wrote his story and it is one that we’ll remember forever.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin’s late-season charge might not be as memorable as Walton’s, but a month ago it was reasonable to think that Irvin was going to end his career playing the worst basket of his life. Instead he basically shot Michigan back into back-to-back NCAA Tournament games and has been efficient and productive down the stretch. He played what could have been his most impressive and consistent 9-game stretch to close his career. Irvin suited up 141 times in a Michigan uniform and was the constant through the ups and downs, highs and lows, and he ended his career on a deserved high note.
- Moritz Wagner: There might not be a more important play in any Michigan game than Moritz Wagner’s first layup. If it goes in, he’s off to the races. If he’s flustered by a shot blocker, it might be a long night. Jordan Bell’s length and quickness effected Wagner from the opening jump and he could never get it going. Everything he did on the floor seemed to be tinged with hesitation as if he was always looking for Bell. In the end, Michigan went with DJ Wilson at the five for the final 12 minutes of the game, providing a sour ending to an incredibly promising sophomore season by the German big man.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson dropped 12 points (on four threes) and 6 rebounds while picking up two steals and two blocks. He did some great things out there and played significantly better pick-and-roll defense than Wagner when he was on the floor at the five. I even thought he did an impressive job guarding Brooks in man-to-man situation. But the two plays that will haunt Wilson all offseason were a missed layup with just over 8 minutes to play and the missed free throw box out. They were fitting given the kind of season that he had, but they are also correctable. If he can eliminate plays like that, it’s tough to even say what’s next for the 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson had two painful in-and-out three-point misses the second half that could have flipped the game. He also tried to get a bit too aggressive looking for his offense inside the arc (1-of-3) and really struggled at times defensively as Oregon looked to isolate him defensively. Part of that wasn’t necessarily his fault as Michigan was hiding Zak Irvin and played Robinson on Brooks, but there will always be games like this where Robinson is a defensive liability.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Going into the night, I thought this could be a good spot for Abdur-Rahkman to get involved going downhill, but he never got into the game, finishing 1-of-6 from the floor with 3 assists and 3 turnovers. He seemed to be settling for some questionable early threes at times and just couldn’t build any confidence.
- Xavier Simpson: Simpson has next and his development over the next 6 months is critical to the program’s future. He played some solid minutes in the second half, but still has a long ways to go on both sides of the floor.