Ann Arbor — All that separated Michigan from completing a comeback in a top-10 clash was 10.8 seconds.
A rough first-half shooting display. A 16-point deficit. A close call at the buzzer in regulation.
No. 5 Michigan brushed it all aside and had a chance to take down No. 10 Oregon in Saturday’s thrilling matchup at Crisler Center.
But on the game’s final possession, senior guard Zavier Simpson’s running hook shot was off the mark and the ensuing tip-in bounced off the rim as Michigan fell, 71-70, in overtime.
“It stings a lot,” said sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr., who got his hand on the tip-in that caromed off the back iron before time expired.
“I thought we had it. We all thought we had it. That tip-in was so close and everything. But obviously everything happens in life for a reason.”
On the final play, Simpson got the inbounds pass from freshman wing Franz Wagner. After junior forward Isaiah Livers came up to set a screen near the 3-point line, Oregon’s Will Richardson switched onto Simpson, who started making his move and driving toward the rim with 4 seconds remaining.
Simpson was met near the basket and challenged by Oregon big man Francis Okoro. That forced Simpson to loft a difficult shot high off the backboard and allowed Johns to crash in for the last-gasp tip.
According to Johns, the ball was supposed to be in Livers’ hands on the final play “then it just turned out to be Zavier.”
“We were trying to get Isaiah to get to his dominate hand and get to the basket,” said Johns, who finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks off the bench. “Maybe draw a foul. All of us just crash the boards and get an offensive rebound, tip it in or something.”
When asked about the final play, Michigan coach Juwan Howard said Livers was only one of the options to take the last shot.
“We got the ball in the hands of the right person that we wanted to have it,” Howard said. “I loved the look that we had. He had an opportunity to either drive it to the basket, throw it back to (Livers) or if they came to help — which they brought everyone to the paint — for the spray. Great decision on his part and we live with the results. And by the way, we got a chance to tip it in and it just didn't fall for us."
The Wolverines (8-3) were in position to pull out the win thanks to sophomore guard David DeJulius. After an and-1 layup by Payton Pritchard gave Oregon a 71-68 lead with 1:14 to go in the extra session, DeJulius responded with a baseline floater to make it a one-point game.
Following the basket, DeJulius forced a turnover on the inbounds pass to give Michigan the ball with 34 seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, DeJulius missed a driving shot attempt and a mad scramble for the ball ensued. After a lengthy review, the Wolverines kept possession that set up a missed opportunity to notch their third victory over a top-10 foe.
"We wanted to get a good shot,” said Wagner, who scored a career-high 21 points. “We had a play and I think we ran it pretty good. We got the tip, it didn't go in. They tipped it out and that's really all I remember.
“It's not about that last play, really. I think it's important to know that we lost the game because we started out bad.”
Much of that had to do with Oregon’s defensive mix of man-to-man, matchup zone and full-court press, which flummoxed Michigan from the start. The Wolverines missed 16 of their first 19 shots and found themselves facing a 25-9 deficit with 7:07 left in the first half.
By the time halftime rolled around, Michigan made just seven shots — four coming from DeJulius, who injected much-needed energy into the offense — and trailed 31-23.
"I thought we were settling a little bit too much,” Johns said. “We just needed to be aggressive, attack the gaps and get other people open for cuts. It was just to be more aggressive and get stops.”
The Wolverines adjusted at halftime and the offense started the come to life. Livers scored Michigan’s first 11 points out of the break and Wagner fueled a 10-1 run that helped the Wolverines take a 51-48 lead with 7:46 left in regulation.
That set the stage for a roller-coaster finish that saw Pritchard repeatedly drive past Simpson to score at the rim, Johns tie it at 63 on a layup with 25 seconds to go, and Anthony Mathias (19 points) drain a long 3-pointer at the buzzer that was a hair late and waved off after review.
Pritchard finished with 23 points (11-for-19 shooting) and repeatedly came through when Oregon (8-2) needed him the most. He scored 15 of the Ducks' final 17 points, including 13 straight at the end of regulation and the start of overtime.
DeJulius had 14 points, Livers added 13 — all in the first eight minutes of the second half — and Simpson tallied 11 assists, eight points and one missed shot that will linger until Michigan returns to action next weekend.
"It's going to be a tough week for all of us because, overall, we all care. We care about one another. We care about the results, whether it's wins or losses,” Howard said. “When you lose two in a row, it's going to sting because we're human.
“We have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to think about the two losses (this week). It's going to be painful.”