They're called free, these free throws. But they can prove costlier than texting while ice road trucking, and that's how it felt for a stunned, packed house at Crisler Center.
Sure, Jordan Morgan's last-second tip hung tantalizingly and seemingly forever on the rim, a Big Ten championship teetering with every whim of every dimple on metal. And yes, it fell away, giving Indiana an almost unthinkable 72-71 victory in a game it trailed by five with just 40 seconds remaining.
But it never should have gotten that far.
A final-minute free throw miss by freshman Glenn Robinson III, a miss on the front end of a 1-and-1 by junior Tim Hardaway, Jr., another front-end 1-and-1 miss by sophomore guard Trey Burke
all at close out time.
Yes, Indiana out-rebounded Michigan, 53-30, grabbing a ridiculous 24 offensive rebounds. Yes, you could have found two-dozen instances in which the Wolverines could have come up with one more bucket, or the Hoosiers one less.
Head coach John Beilein put a heavy emphasis on that fact. Don't dump it on the last-minute free throw shooters, he insisted. They've won the Wolverines a lot of ball games, and that game was lost before the final minute.
He might have a tough time convincing the principles, though.
"We were up five points, even with all the rebounds, with about 40 seconds left," Burke stressed. "It could have come out our way. We could have won the game."
"That's Indiana," Hardaway said, giving some credit to the outright Big Ten champions. "They never quit. They play to the last buzzer. Just give the credit. They went to their go-to guy, and their guy made plays. We just didn't do a good job of executing down the stretch."
While he sincerely meant the former, the latter will linger like the aftertaste of sour milk.
"We shoot [free throws] on the same rims, every day, for 10, 20 minutes straight," Hardaway said. "You can't control anything about that. You try to do your same routine. Hopefully the ball goes in. The ball just didn't go in for us today."
Beilein simply refused to dwell on the final minute. He'll cut up an entire game's worth of what ifs, and pour them into what remains - and plenty does.
"There were a bunch of things that happened, that didn't go our way
that we didn't make go our way," Beilein said.
He also said: "You get what you earn, and we didn't quite earn this one."
Even on the final play, the head coach thought the Wolverines would get the roll that made the difference between a four-way Big Ten championship split and the Hoosiers celebrating into the night alone.
"I just thought for sure, that baby was going in," he said of Morgan's tip. "It didn't, and they got the win
and the championship."
"I thought the ball went in," Burke insisted. "It went all the way down and came back up. We were unlucky. Maybe next time, we'll get that to fall."
Next time. How do you think about next time when this time is sticking in your backside like nettles?
Then again, how can the Wolverines do anything else at this point? If utter devastation lingers, it only compounds itself.
They'll be ready to play on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. They'll be ready to go when everybody starts big dancing. But this one
well, they'll have to tuck this one away in the future-misery file.
"I was trying to win the game, just like all of my other teammates," Burke said. "We knew we had a Big Ten championship ahead of us. We tried to do whatever it took to get the win.
"Up five, with that amount of time left, you think you're going to win. We just didn't get it done at the free throw line. We missed the front ends of 1-and-1s
and it cost us."
The price - the championship they've worked for all year long. The carrot -- a shot at a bigger championship.
"There's another title on the line right now," Hardaway said.
Actually, a couple more. But that doesn't mean this miss won't sting
for a long, long time.
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