Michigan coach talks about the quick turnaround and playing the Wildcats for the second time in three games. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Almost a year later, the miraculous play still cuts deep.
With the game tied at 65 and 1.7 seconds left, Northwestern’s Nathan Taphorn heaved a full-court pass to Dererk Pardon for a winning buzzer-beater layup that triggered a frenzied court-storming celebration at Welsh-Ryan Arena and secured the Wildcats’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
It was a shot that was heard around the college basketball world on March 1, 2017, and a heart-wrenching defeat that left Michigan devastated.
As No. 20 Michigan attempts to sweep the season series against Northwestern on Tuesday in their second encounter in eight days, the Wolverines will return to the scene of the crime for the first time — sort of. With Welsh-Ryan Arena under construction for renovations this season, Northwestern plays all its home games at Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont, Ill.
Regardless, the Wolverines haven’t been able to wipe away the memory from that unforgettable finish that was nominated for an ESPY for “Best Play” and has been immortalized in a Big Ten Network documentary titled “Big Dance,” which chronicled Northwestern’s historic 2016-17 season.
“I don’t care what they did — if you don’t throw that pass on time, on target, you could probably do it one out of 10 times the way (Taphorn) threw that baby,” Beilein said Monday. “We we’re going to switch screens and they just slipped a screen.
“It was like one of the passes last night (in Super Bowl LII) that the (Philadelphia) Eagles threw. Everybody is there, but the thing is just so perfect. The defense was good, the offense was better.”
Beilein said he doesn’t have any lingering nightmares over those final few seconds that have been etched into Northwestern lore. But losing sleep has become quite common following games against the Wildcats.
Four of the past six meetings between the teams have been decided by four points or less, including crushing 82-78 double overtime road loss in 2015.
“I remember, I think the hangover lasted three days (last season) and then we beat Nebraska by a lot out at Nebraska, a plane crashed and we end up going on a run so I forgot about it,” Beilein said. “Three years ago, when we were about to go up seven with about 11 seconds to go and it went into overtime and we lost.
“This has been two really heartbreaking losses there to Northwestern the last two times. … The Northwestern-Michigan series for the last four or five years, most of them come down to the last minute of play.”
Freshman forward Isaiah Livers said he didn’t watch Michigan’s gut-punch loss at Northwestern last season but had heard plenty of chatter about it the last week and wasn’t exactly sure why.
When he finally found out on Monday how that game ended, it started to make sense.
Freshman forward talks about what parts of his game he's been working on before UM travels to face Northwestern on Tuesday. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
“Oh, man. I didn’t know it happened that way,” Livers said. “That’s why (Beilein) is talking about it all the time when we watch film. He’s like, ‘Remember last time we went there they got a little lucky at the end, threw a Hail Mary and the guy laid it in.’ That’s crazy.
“I know lately he’s been preparing us on late-game situations. The last three out of five games have been late-game situations that we got to clean up.”
With such a quick turnaround between the first and second meetings this season, it’s a good news-bad news situation for both teams. Livers noted the biggest takeaway from last week’s defensive battle is finding a better way to crack Northwestern’s matchup zone, while Beilein hinted at possibly retooling the team’s offensive approach.
And with Northwestern winning three of four and appearing to turn a corner, it adds to the challenge.
But for upperclassmen like senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson, Tuesday will be as much about making adjustments as avenging last season’s agony.
“Their eyes this week have been way bigger than they have been,” Livers said. “I know they can’t wait to get this revenge game — most would say — on Northwestern.”
Michigan at Northwestern
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill.
Records: No. 20 Michigan 19-6, 8-4 Big Ten; Northwestern 14-10, 5-6
Outlook: Michigan starts a stretch with four of its final six regular-season games on the road, and has lost four of its last six games at Northwestern. … Senior wing Scottie Lindsey (14 points) leads four scorers averaging double figures for the Wildcats, who rank No. 1 the Big Ten in free-throw percentage (75.5 percent).