KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The ball was in Derrick Walton Jr.’s hands, as it had to be.
The senior point guard had been Michigan’s heart and soul throughout its dramatic run through the postseason, and he had been its best player in Thursday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal against Oregon.
So why not have him put up the potential game-winner in the final seconds?
“No one else on this team that we wanted taking that shot,” Zak Irvin said later.
But Walton’s try from the right wing, right at the three-point arc, bounded off the front of the rim. Just like that, it was over, and Oregon had won, 69-68.
The third-seeded Ducks (32-5) will face top-seeded Kansas tomorrow at the Sprint Center. It’s Oregon’s second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight.
Seventh-seeded Michigan (26-12) had won seven straight games, including a four-game sweep of the Big Ten Tournament after the Wolverines’ arrival was delayed by their plane overshooting a runway and crashing into a fence.
Walton had 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds, but he lamented coming up short when it mattered most. “I had a good look at the basket, and it just didn’t drop for me,” he said.
Walton had done a fine job creating separation from Dylan Ennis, the man guarding him. (The official scoresheet deemed it a two-point attempt.)
“I’ve seen him make that shot thousands of times,” Irvin said. “So I had confidence in him knocking it down.”
Coach Dana Altman spent the final seconds fretting that Ennis had not followed his instructions to foul Walton intentionally. The Ducks had two fouls to give before reaching the bonus.
“Dylan Ennis had an opportunity there,” Altman said. “I was a little upset that he didn’t. Fortunately, the ball didn’t go in.”
Walton made a three to put the Wolverines ahead 68-65 with 2:02 left. Oregon made it 68-67 when Jordan Bell grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw by Dillon Brooks and put it back. Bell said the play is something the team works on in practice. He also admitted to pushing a Michigan player out of the way.
After Walton missed a driving shot against the bigger Bell, Tyler Dorsey put Oregon ahead to stay at 69-68 with a fine spin move with 1:08 left. After Michigan’s D.J. Wilson badly missed a three-point try, Brooks missed a layup, but Bell got another offensive rebound with 18 seconds left. Ennis missed yet another free throw, setting up Michigan’s last chance.
Michigan took more three-pointers (31) than twos (27) but never put together a hot streak from long range. It was 11-for-31 from beyond the arc. Coach John Beilein said Oregon’s changing defenses gave Michigan trouble.
Moritz Wagner, whose career-high 26 points lifted Michigan against Louisville, had only seven points. Irvin had 19.
Dorsey scored 20 points and Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Neither team led by more than six, and there were 16 lead changes and eight ties.
Beilein cautioned against remembering this Michigan team only for what happened on that runway March 8 near Ypsilanti.
“It was more than a story, it was a great team,” he said. “They were becoming a great team before the story.”