Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And There It Stayed

It just seemed to hang there. Stuck in space, hovering between the ceiling and the floor. Caught in the ether perhaps.

As the ball left Dion Harris' fingertips time seemed to slow down. Just to get the shot over the arms of defender in front of him, Harris put enough arc on the ball to put it in geosynchronous orbit. So it stayed there. Carrying the hopes of every Michigan fan who swore never to care again, but were brought back that night on the faint hopes of promise. We'd watched for all of regulation and for two overtimes. Now we were forced to wait a little longer.

Michigan had trailed the entire game. Despite "jumping" out to a 5-2 lead, Notre Dame quickly took control of the game, leading by 8 going into the half. True to its end season form, Michigan allowed its opponent to shoot the lights out. Notre Dame was a blistering 54% percent from the floor in the first half. Despite this, Michigan hung in. Notre Dame never completely took over the game. Runs begat runs. Michigan would close to within four points, maybe two, and then sink back to a seven to eight point deficit. But, unlike in other games where Michigan trailed, you never sensed they could not come back. You sensed they could. You sensed they would. They'd beaten this team before. They'll do it again. At least that's what I told myself.

As the second half began Michigan went on an abbreviated run, cutting the deficit to three points. Notre Dame quickly answered, re-extending their lead to eight. But that was the last time their lead would be secure. Chris Hunter, not wanting to end his Michigan career on his own floor, again became our catalyst. He dunked, he blocked shots, he shot... threes? His shot selection aside, Hunter's block in the second half was the stuff of legends. Up four midway through the second half Notre Dame found Torin Francis all alone under the basket. Michigan had blown an assignment and Francis seemed free to dunk the Irish back to a comfortable lead. Chris Hunter had other thoughts. Leaping four feet from the basket Hunter actually beat Francis to the rim. With his outstretched right arm he stuffed Francis' two handed attempt. On the way down, Hunter ripped the ball out of Francis' hands, and into the waiting arms of Dion Harris who sprinted the other way. Michigan scored on that possession to make the deficit two points. This was Hunter's world. We were all just living in it that moment.

Slowly. Surely. Michigan chipped away. With less than a minute to go they finally retook the lead. Sprinting around the court, in what was (shockingly) a set play, Daniel Horton went left to right around the baseline and hoisted a three behind Graham Brown's perfect screen. Like the screen, so was the shot. Michigan lead by two. What may be lost in all of this was the performance of Notre Dame's Chris Quinn. He is perhaps the whitest white man you've ever seen on a basketball court. He makes ex-Maryland star Steve Blake look tan. If you sized him up on a playground you'd snicker. Then he'd torch you. Quinn made circus shot after circus shot. For the final ten minutes of regulation, Quinn and Horton played "top this" with one another. Some of the shots Quinn made were inconceivable. And with time running out on the Irish's season, he drained another shot to take Michigan to overtime. The ESPN analysts called it perfectly. It was like the two best players at camp were trying to outdo one another and man is it fun to watch. To overtime we went.

By overtime both teams were drained, but Michigan had the quicker step. Despite trailing early, Michigan came back and tied the game. Steals. Turnovers. Balls off the foot. It got a tad sloppy. But with 30 seconds left in OT #1 Michigan had a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, Michigan's attempts to run out the clock also ran out their options as they were forced into a bad shot to end the extra session.

The second overtime was similar. I was three inches from the screen. Yelling. Screaming. Making my wife wonder why she married me. I was fanatical. Willing every Michigan shot into the basket and deflecting every Irish shot with my mind. And with seconds remaining, tied at 84 a piece, Chris Quinn finally blinked. Having made his first freethrow to tie the game, his second rimmed out. We all knew who would take the last shot. It had to be Horton. He had 29 points. He was hot. He was our leader.

So there Horton was. Ball in hand dribbling out the clock. Then he made his move. Seven seconds. Cutting left he ran right into a wall of Irish defenders. Five seconds. Cut off. Four seconds. Nowhere to go. Three Seconds. OMG Dion! Two Seconds! The Shot!

And there it hung. Then, after an eternity, it began to fall. Slowly at first. All of that emotion, all that yelling, and the titanic weight of a season seeking redemption finally brought the ball out of the ether and back to earth. Like the sun beginning to set over the Atlantic. Its arc slowly brought it down towards the ocean. Then....



At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Ben said...

Watching this with my ND girlfriend created some problems. Good problems, but problems nonetheless.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Maize n Brew Dave said...

Nice thing is my wife doesn't give a crap about roundball. She was rooting for ND, but tuned out halfway through the game to do some cooking for the week. the sounds of my yelling at the tube were occasionally interupted by "You're going to have a heart attack", "what's wrong with you?", and "will you please stop yelling, I almost cut off a finger." She knew I was a Michigan grad before hand. So my mania was known to her, and therefore, thankfully, not grounds for an anullment. Good times.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Johnny said...

Very well done, Dave. I liked the final paragraph. As you said, Michigan did hang in there, and that kind of resiliency is what can even make losses somewhat tolerable. Hunter has the type of skill set that isn't easily replaced (or at least, the type that Michigan hasn't recruited recently), but the combination of senior versions of Petway and Sims, an athletic Kendric Price, and super-stud Deshawn Sims should compensate. I figure, Courtney's the best and only post threat they have, and he's not going anywhere, so I might as well hope.


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