Michigan's Derrick Walton, Jr., left, and Zak Irvin process the loss in the locker room. The Wolverines finish the season with a record of 28-9.
INDIANAPOLIS — Down by three points with only a few seconds left on the clock, one had to wonder what remained in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s bag of tricks.
A certain kind of sorcery had gotten the Wolverines this far in the NCAA tournament. So did torrid 3-point shooting, along with the emergence of an inside presence from a fifth-year senior. An otherwise youthful starting lineup that had three sophomores and a freshman also helped the Wolverines.
The next step to returning to the Final Four, however, came down to the last shot by a so-called veteran and a Canadian sharp-shooter. But Nik Stauskas’ half-court heave with less than two seconds left fell well short of its intended target. The final shot of the Elite Eight — and, maybe, Stauskas’ final shot at Michigan — bounced off the backboard and ricocheted off the elevated hardwood court at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stauskas had 24 points, but the sophomore guard couldn’t answer Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, which lifted No. 8 Kentucky to a 75-72 win over the No. 2 Wolverines.
“They made a great shot coming down,” Stauskas said of Harrison’s shot, a likely candidate for CBS’ "One Shining Moment" posttournament highlight reel. “I thought we did a pretty good job of contesting it. It’s part of basketball. It’s going to happen to you where you’re going to make the shot sometimes, and it’s going to go against you sometimes, where the other team makes a shot.
“They played a great game, and that was a big play down the stretch.”
Harrison took a handoff from his twin brother, Andrew, faked toward the basket, and stepped back. With Michigan guard Caris LeVert reaching in the air in an attempt to defend, Harrison sent a shot over the sophomore’s outstretched hands and with 2.6 seconds left, it sailed upwards, then dropped through the basket.
“I knew I had to take the shot,” Aaron Harrison said. “I wasn’t really sure how much time was left. I knew it wasn’t that much time, so I just tried to take the best shot I could take.”
Harrison’s game-winning shot capped off a contest in which the Wildcats (28-10) wiped out Michigan’s double-digit lead in the first half, then matched the Wolverines (28-9) almost basket for basket in the second half, clamping down defensively to create their opportunities. Kentucky outrebounded Michigan 35-24, with 17 offensive rebounds.
“We knew that was going to be a challenge, coming in,” LeVert said. “They really attack the ball well and started to make some of those 3s, so it was tough to defend them that way.”
UM led by 10 with five minutes left in the first half, but the Wildcats began to chip away, as Marcus Lee (10 points) brought the Wildcats within two at 34-32 with 2:14 left, part of a 10-2 Kentucky run in a stretch of three minutes, and Julius Randle’s jumper with three seconds left in the half tied the game at 37.
“That was a big shot,” Andrew Harrison said. “That was a big momentum change for us. We’ve been down by 10, we’ve been down by 13, like we were against Louisville. We just had to keep getting stops.”
The Wildcats opened a back-and-forth second half with an 8-2 run, but after UM switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense, it took a 55-51 lead with 11:27 left. Less than four minutes later, Kentucky tied the game at 55, and stretched its lead to seven, then maintained its lead until Jordan Morgan’s tip-in — the fourth effort by the Wolverines after Stauskas’ 3-point attempt — tied the game at 72 with 27 seconds left.
“We knew it was going to be a game like that,” LeVert said. “They made a big run the middle of the second half, and we were trying to battle through for the rest of the game.”
Kentucky’s final play, several of the Wildcats admitted afterward, wasn’t executed the way it had been drawn up.
Still, Andrew Harrison handed the ball off to his brother, Aaron. The other Harrison went for the shot.
“I was in awe,” Kentucky forward Alex Poythress said. “I was looking at it. We were just looking up and it was higher than what he would normally shoot, like a rainbow shot. It was one of those shots that took, like, five seconds to drop.”
Then, it sank.
“You’re not going to go out and make them drive the ball to the basket,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “You’re going to make them score over you. I thought [LeVert] got his hand up. They did a good job on it. But he made a shot from deep.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.
Michigan's Glenn Robinson III, bottom, and Kentucky's Julius Randle go after a loose ball during the second half Sunday in Indianapolis.