Sunday, March 4, 2012
Wolverines cheer on Buckeyes
By Michael Rothstein
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan started its Sunday inside the Bryce Jordan Center, in a small locker room waiting to play Penn State knowing what was at stake. In case the Wolverines forgot, a small message was written on the board as well.
"Big Ten Champions."
Before Michigan played and eventually beat Penn State 71-65 on Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines knew they needed help. If they were going to accomplish what they chanted at the end of every practice and meeting and huddle -- "Big Ten Champs" -- they no longer had control.
They had to wait to find out if they won a share of the Big Ten title.
The pilot on the flight back from State College, Pa., announced the halftime score on the descent into Michigan -- but otherwise the plane ride was peaceful. Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. slept. Senior guard Zack Novak played word scrambles and a round of Tiger Woods Golf on his iPad.
Once the plane landed: Chaos.
"Way worse than playing," Novak said. "I've never been that nervous on the court, just helpless."
Junior guard Josh Bartelstein fired up his laptop, attempting to get the CBS feed on the bus, but it was scrambled, so he and junior guard Matt Vogrich had a contest who could update the game tracker on their phone fastest.
The minutes ticked by. A double-digit Michigan State lead dwindled to single digits as Vogrich and Bartelstein yelled updates to the entire Indian Trails bus.
"I was sitting in my seat, wasn't crowding around anybody, because I knew it would be yelled out every single point, every single possession," senior guard Stuart Douglass said. "Tried to remain as calm as possible."
Not everyone could.
Novak began yelling at the bus driver, imploring him to drive faster as Ohio State crept closer. Michigan could sense a chance at a championship coming, and the Wolverines needed to be home to see it live.
And as Ohio State came back with William Buford draining shots, the Michigan bus became louder and crazier.
"Zack wanted to drive the bus," Hardaway Jr. said. "He wanted to get there as quick as possible, like he was in NASCAR. He was going insane on the bus."
The bus pulled into the Crisler Center parking lot right around 6 p.m., with 3:40 remaining in the game and Ohio State leading, 64-63. Then, the Michigan players and coaches scattered.
Michigan coach John Beilein let in two fans waiting outside the William Davidson Player Development Center to greet the team. Most of Michigan's players and coaches went upstairs to the basketball offices.
Douglass, Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans went downstairs to the team locker room. This would be where they would try to view the final minutes, to where they transported from college basketball players to fans with their own fate held not in their hands, but in those of their rivals.
"The scene felt like Ohio State was our best friends," Hardaway Jr. said. "I felt like everybody was like, 'Ohio State, yeah!' We're enemies, we're not supposed to be rooting for them."
Rooting took on different forms. Morgan and McLimans eventually went upstairs to join the rest of the team, leaving Douglass to watch most of the final few minutes of the game by himself, where he began to contemplate everything that had happened throughout his four-year career.
He wanted to be away from the hubbub, to savor the moment and later said, "I felt like I deserved that time alone a little bit."
Upstairs, Novak treated the Michigan State-Ohio State game like his beloved Green Bay Packers were playing.
Actually, it was worse.
"I was crazy, man, No. 1," Novak said. "I was standing in the video room with my shirt off on my head, screaming, jumping on chairs, going crazy."
"Rally cap," he explained. "I was feeling it. I think they needed to go on a run."
|Stu Douglass stole a few moments to himself in the locker room amidst the chaos of his teammates watching Ohio State rally past Michigan State and elevate Michigan into a three-way tie for first.|
Ohio State did, and when Michigan State's Draymond Green missed with 36 seconds left and the game tied at 70-70, Douglass went upstairs to join his teammates. He had to be part of whatever was about to happen.
Michigan gathered in the team film room and watched Buford stop at the top of the key and make a hotly contested jump shot with less than two seconds remaining -- a shot somewhat blocked from the Wolverines' view because Vogrich ran past the screen mid-shot.
It went in. Ohio State had the lead. Ohio State likely had the win. Michigan had its first shared or outright Big Ten championship since the 1985-86 season.
"As much as we were Ohio State fans," Douglass said. "I think we were Buford fans for the last 20 minutes or so."
When the game ended, the Michigan offices erupted. Evan Smotrycz emerged from the office with a wide grin. Players hugged. Families of assistant coaches showed. Hardaway Jr. left the building yelling, "Yeesssssss!" Twice.
Beilein watched from the background as his players initially celebrated. This was their moment, he said. This was their chaos. As it died down, he went up to each player and thanked them. He hugged them.
"I know we're tri-champs or whatever people will call it, but I don't care," Beilein said. "This league was at its best this year, and with the same other won-loss record in the league with two other quality teams is special."
This Michigan team, led by two lightly recruited seniors and no five-star prospects, had just done something the Fab Five never did. It won a Big Ten regular-season title.
"I don't care who didn't do it," Novak said. "We did do it; no one can ever take it from us."
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.
I was standing in the video room with my shirt off on my head, screaming, jumping on chairs, going crazy.
-- Zack Novak on watching the OSU-MSU game