Michigan's whirlwind 48 hours end with overtime upset of Purdue

The best college basketball story of March thus far isn’t a Cinderella. It isn’t a first-time dancer like Northwestern. It isn’t a stunning upset like TCU’s over No. 1 Kansas. It isn’t Duke or North Carolina, or anything else you’d expect it to be.

It’s a team that, 48 hours ago, feared for its life. And not its NCAA tournament life. Not anything to do with basketball. On Wednesday afternoon, Michigan players and coaches feared for their actual, literal lives.

The story begins with somebody yelling, “Get down!” An airplane set to take off for Washington, D.C., didn’t take off at all. Instead it skidded off a runway at Willow Run Airport in Michigan. It crashed through a fence. It stopped just short of a ravine. Most, if not all, of the 109 passengers on the flight — Michigan basketball players, coaches, staff, family members, the band and cheerleaders among them — likely went into a state of panic.

Here’s what happened next, according to a wonderfully detailed story from mlive.com:

Michigan players Jon Teske and Mark Donnal took the doors off the plane, beginning emergency exit procedures. The inflatable chutes were deployed, but wind gusts caused them to flail and flop.

Michigan coaches and players helped others off the plane. U-M head coach John Beilein oversaw much of the deboarding. Beilein had fumes pouring in his face as [he] helped hold down the inflatable chutes. Once everyone deboarded, he checked with each person individually.

Everyone ran away from the plane. The engine, darkened and burned, was still churning with noise.

“Thought it was gonna blow,” [Michigan radio play-by-play announcer Matt] Sanderson said.

It didn’t. After getting as far away as possible, everyone looked back, wondering what just happened. Some of the students took selfies.

Zak Irvin called his mother, crying.

Once the shock and panic of the situation ebbed, a realization probably hit players and coaches: They had a basketball game to play in less than 24 hours. They had no plan for getting to the game in place. And they were 500 miles away.

Beilein gave the players the option to forfeit the game and stay back on campus. They declined. At a hotel in Ann Arbor that night, the team began its pregame walk-through, but Beilein shut it down, and instead brought counselors from the school in to visit with the team.

The following morning at 6 a.m., players and coaches boarded a bus bound for Detroit. They arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in time for a Delta flight that would get them to D.C. a little before 9 a.m. — three hours before scheduled tipoff. They hit traffic on their way to the Verizon Center — of course they did. But they made it, and with the tip time pushed back roughly 30 minutes, took the floor a little before 12:30 p.m. in practice jerseys and shorts. Until an investigation of the plane incident was complete, their normal uniforms were stuck underneath the cabin.

The second round game against Illinois was, for the players, a welcome reprieve from the craziness of the last 24 hours. They played loose and relaxed, and dominated the Illini. The 20-point win was enough to secure Michigan’s place in the NCAA tournament.

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Apparently, though, the Wolverines decided that this wild story needed an even better ending.

Late Thursday night, they received their uniforms, and eschewed the practice gear for their away navy blue threads the following day against top-seeded Purdue. And as if the chaotic travel issues and emotional roller coaster weren’t enough, the game between Michigan and the Big Ten regular season champs was one of the best of any conference tournament so far.

After a high-level, back-and-forth battle for 40 minutes, Michigan trailed by two, and had the ball with under 10 seconds to play. Irvin, who less than 48 hours ago had been in tears, drove to the basket to tie the game.

But when Irvin’s layup fell through the net, the clock, which should have stopped, didn’t. Caleb Swanigan, as it turned out, threw the inbounds pass right to a Michigan player, but the officials whistled the play dead because of the clock mistake, robbing the Wolverines of a chance to win the game in regulation. Michigan players couldn’t believe the call.

But nonetheless, in overtime, they came through. The Wolverines held Purdue to just one point in the extra session until a Ryan Cline 3-pointer in the final seconds. D.J. Wilson’s 26 points and eight rebounds led Michigan to a 74-70 victory, and to a storybook upset at the tail-end of an unbelievable 48 hours.

When asked in a postgame interview on ESPN about Michigan’s semifinal opponent on Saturday, Wilson gave a pretty telling answer.

“I don’t really care,” he said. “We’re all just blessed to be here.”

Michigan’s wild two days concluded with a win over top-seeded Purdue at the Big Ten tournament. (Getty)
Michigan’s wild two days concluded with a win over top-seeded Purdue at the Big Ten tournament. (Getty)

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