Road wins in the Big Ten are big, regardless of the team or the venue. Michigan missed an opportunity to pick one up at Wisconsin by failing to make the easy plays, allowing the Badgers to hang around and steal one with a prayer in a 65-62 overtime win.
Ben Brust's halfcourt triple with a hand in his face was probably a 100-1 shot, and it came after freshman Caris LeVert had been instructed two things; keep him in front of you and foul him when he got the ball. The Wolverines had two to give with 2.4 seconds left after junior Tim Hardaway Jr.'s key triple, and head coach John Beilein let them all know when he yelled "foul!" before the Badgers threw the inbounds pass.
"Definitely, we wanted to foul and keep everybody in front of us," Beilein said. "[Brust] turned the corner on him just enough where we couldn't foul him. But the whole idea - I thought we had them once they didn't hit the initial guy. We just missed it.
"With Caris' quickness, we thought he could get there, but he didn't. We even had that play on scout tape and just couldn't get there."
They'd gone over it a number of times, too. Instead of making the play, though, they gave up the game-tying shot and the momentum, falling in overtime.
The Wolverines played Mitch McGary deep just in case the Badgers threw it over the top of the U-M defense, Beilein said. That way, he could have contested any triples.
"In retrospect, you can say maybe to avoid a direct pass you could have Mitch on the ball, but that creates another one on one jump ball opportunity," Beilein said. "They've got some long dudes coming in, so to throw it up on a tip play, they can win a lot of those on a jump ball. We wanted to make sure we had an extra guy back.
"The instruction coming out was we have two to give, so go foul. But he turned the corner on Caris, and he couldn't get it done."
Brust also hit a triple over LeVert in overtime that proved to be the game-winner.
"The scouting report on him is make him drive the ball to the basket. Once again, we had guys in there in that situation for the first time. Caris was in there for defense, and he is a very good defender. He made a little bit of a mistake. That's not a guy you want to give that type of look to."
Michigan, though, never should have been in that position. The Wolverines missed a number of easy looks they'd normally make, including several point blanks shots in the paint. Sophomore Trey Burke (19 points) slid in late to try and take a charge with 31.8 seconds remaining - instead it set up a three-point play that tied the game.
Redshirt sophomore Jon Horford struggled to finish after starting in place of injured Jordan Morgan, still out with an ankle injury, and redshirt frosh Max Bielfeldt played 18 minutes as a result.
They talked about all the wasted possessions in the postgame, Beilein said, and what they could have done differently - things that realistically could have made the heartbreaking loss an easy 10-point win.
"We missed 14 points in layups, and I'm not talking about when they're really contested," Beilein said. "I'm talking about there's the ball, the basket and us, and it didn't go in. That's a bad thing - but now we lost, so we turn around and say, 'would you trade this game for a win Tuesday [at Michigan State], or for a win in the Big Ten Tournament? You just spin it around and make it, be a touch better.
"Those [misses] had nothing to do with being here. Nothing. Some days you just miss a layup. You don't say, 'it's the Kohl Center; we can't make a lay-up.' It's not a science. Sometimes you just miss them. Trey had one where he never misses that. He'll make that 95 percent of the time, and Jon had a couple easy ones early."
Often, though, it's the teams that get the breaks that win titles, and the Wolverines had a big one go against them Saturday. There's still plenty of basketball to be played and their destiny is in their hands, but the margin for error shrunk with eight games to play.
"Holding court at home is no joke either," Beilein said. "Wisconsin found out today, and we found out the other day.
"What it's going to come down to - maybe somebody will just be incredible and sweep the rest of the road games, but it will probably come down to lot of breaks to see who is champions. We saw it at Illinois [in a win over Indiana], and we saw it today."