KANSAS CITY, Mo. â When the ball left Derrick Walton Jr.âs hand, just about everyone in America knew it was going in. Of course it was going in.
After all Michigan had been through and everything the Wolverines had accomplished over the past few weeks, the senior leaderâs game-winning shot was the next logical step in their increasingly improbable journey.
âThereâs no one else on this team that we wanted taking that shot,â senior Zak Irvin said. âIâve seen him make that shot thousands of times, so I had confidence in him knocking it down. It looked good from my angle.â
It looked good until it hit iron, until the last bit of magic came crashing down to the court and the final buzzer abruptly ended a ride that felt like it could last so much longer.
Like that, it was all over. It was time for Michigan to return to the runway.
The seventh-seeded Wolverinesâ incredible run through March, which began with the teamâs plane crashing before the Big Ten Tournament, ended on Waltonâs game-winning 3-point miss in the closing seconds of Thursdayâs Midwest Regional semifinal, sealing a 69-68 loss to third-seeded Oregon at the Sprint Center.
âThe kids fought their hearts out this whole season, but particularly this last six weeks to be more than a story,â coach John Beilein said. âIt was a great team. They were becoming a great team before the story, so really proud of âem.â
Uncharacteristically struggling offensively all night, it was nearly as remarkable Michigan (27-12) even had a chance to win its eighth straight game.
The Ducks (32-5), who will appear in the Elite Eight for the second straight year, made Michigan look uncomfortable where it most easily excels, constantly switching defenses and creating issues with their athleticism.
Second-round star Moritz Wagner flopped in his first game with name recognition, scoring just seven points, while Michigan shot 43 percent from the field and was held to its lowest scoring output since the streak began.
âI wish we could have more games to play together because I think a couple minutes throughout the game we didnât show the type of team we were becoming,â said Walton, who led Michigan with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. âItâs the tightest bunch Iâve been around in all my years of playing basketball. Just a very selfless group. I had the joy of being a part of it and being one of the leaders.â
All of Michiganâs momentum looked like it was sapped early in the second half, but the Wolverinesâ over-reliance on 3-pointers â accounting for 31 of their 58 shots â finally paid off late, with 3-pointers by Wilson, Walton and Irvin giving Michigan the lead.
With less than two minutes left, the Wolverines still led by three, but a put-back by Jordan Bell (16 points, 13 rebounds) off a missed free throw, followed by a Tyler Dorsey (20 points) drive with just over a minute left put the Ducks back in front by one.
But when the ball left Waltonâs hands, Michigan still thought there would be so much to look forward to.
âWe didnât want the season to end,â Irvin said. âThis team had a lot of great memories. We battled through adversity and itâs just a team that I will always remember.â