Wow. We've seen Michigan make comebacks before, but this one would have been the best yet. You know, if it had actually happened. Against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines were down 9 points with nine minutes to play, and they stormed back to win. At Happy Valley on February 6, Michigan trailed by 10 with eight minutes left and magically pulled out a victory. This time the Maize and Blue were looking at a 15-point deficit with just under 11 minutes left and came within one field goal of forcing overtime.
The problem is, they never should have been trying to force OT. After Nolan Smith missed his second free throw with under 9 seconds to go, Darius Morris raced down the court and threw up a floater in the lane that rimmed out to end the game. It's curious why a team that loves to shoot 3-pointers as much as Michigan would opt to give a #1 seed five more minutes to figure things out instead of just going for the win right there. Zach Novak was 4/9 from beyond the arc for the game and was on the court for the final seconds. If I'm John Beilein, he's the guy I want taking the last shot.
That said, it took an outstanding effort from Michigan just to get within one shot of the tie. Duke only led by 4 points at the half due to Mason Plumlee turnovers and missed three pointers from Seth Curry and company. At the start of the 2nd, Nolan Smith began taking over the game, hitting a couple of gorgeous step-back jumpers followed by a drive to the rim that got two points plus the foul. The Devils eventually got the lead up to 15, but Michigan used a 1-3-1 zone down the stretch to get enough Duke misses and turnovers to sneak back into the game. Darius Morris had 8 points and 4 assists during the last 11 minutes of the game and Tim Hardaway Jr. hit on three straight jumpers to bring Michigan with a point, but that was the closest they would get.
Jordan Morgan recovered from a forgettable first half that included 2 personal fouls to be a major factor in the second half. He scored 10 points included 4 on a pair of fast break dunks that helped the Wolverines get back into the game.
Evan Smotrycz was incredible with 11 points in the first half. He canned a couple of three pointers and blew past Miles Plumlee for a bucket plus the foul. Unfortunately in the 2nd half, Smotrycz could barely stay on the floor and eventually fouled out because of the trouble he had defending Kyle Singler and Duke's other big men.
For Duke, Nolan Smith was his usual awesome self with 24 points on 8/13 shooting. Reserve forward Ryan Kelly pitched in with a very efficient 11 points on 5/6 shooting in only 23 minutes, while Kyrie Irving scored 9 of his 11 points from the free throw line. The freshman point guard didn't record a field goal make until he hit a clutch jumper to put Duke up 3 with 33 seconds remaining in the game.
I thought the Plumlee brothers would be more involved in the offense given Michigan's lack of height, but Miles and Mason only played for 15 and 18 minutes, respectively and finished with 4 points a piece. They did combined for 5 offensive rebounds and 2 blocks, so there was an impact there, but mostly it was Singler, Smith and Irving getting Michigan in foul trouble.
Michigan just barely missed out on what would have been a huge win for them, while Duke heads to the Sweet Sixteen yet again. This time they'll find the Arizona Wildcats waiting for them.