It really felt like a dream.
Down 15 points with just over ten minutes to play, Michigan had clawed, scratched and willed its way back into the game. Now they were within one point of the defending national champions. There were 10 seconds left on the clock and all that needed to happen was for Duke to miss one, or both, of its free throws for Michigan to have a shot at winning the game and advancing to the Sweet 16. Irrespective of what happened at the free throw line, at worst, Michigan would be within a three pointer of forcing overtime. When you're playing the defending national champion who is also a One Seed in the NCAA Tournament, this is a dream scenario. And one I didn't want to wake up from.
It's been like this for two months. Ever since Michigan beat Michigan State in the Breslin Center, the Wolverines were playing like they were unconscious. Nothing bothered them and nothing stopped them. They played in real life the way you'd see them play in a movie or a dream. The passing, the grit, the showtime, the lights out shooting. There was always an answer for any adversity and there was always another game to be played. All of this brought them to within a point and a pair of free throws with less than 10 seconds to play of besting one of the best college basketball teams in the country. So I held my breath and prayed that the dream would continue. The first shot found net. The second didn't.
And when the shot rimmed out Zack Novak (who else could it be) greedily gobbled up the rebound. The clock read 8 seconds, and time was running. Turning quickly to his right he fed Darius Morris the ball and the 6'4" Californian sprinted down the court going from the left sideline toward the top of the key. Duke's transition defense was sloppy, but it was there. Tim Hardaway Jr streaked to the left corner, Zack Novak trailed the play and sprinted toward the right portion of the top of the arc. But there was a seam, and Morris went right at it. With a right hand dribble he took two Duke defenders with him and looked as though he would go right to the rack. He didn't. Suddenly pulling up 6 feet out both defenders were faked completely out of their shorts, their momentum carrying them toward the basket support as Morris let a right handed tear drop leave his hand toward the rim. It was dead center. It looked right. But it wasn't to be. The dream and the game ended when Morris's floater found the back of the rim and bounced out.
At the time it seemed so unfair that it was over. Michigan was on a 28-16 run. Their 1-3-1 defense had completely befuddled Duke and forced them into turnover after turnover. This had turned into Michigan's game, not Duke's. If only there was an extra 10 seconds or some justice in the universe everything would've worked out for the Wolverines and Michigan would be the team preparing for the Sweet 16.
That's not the way life works. The clock will always be the clock. Cold. Emotionless and impartial. The underdog usually loses. That's why he's the underdog. Dreams eventually end. That's why they're dreams. Sometimes the beautiful story doesn't have a happy ending. This was one of those times.
But it doesn't diminish what this team accomplished. It's extremely difficult to summarize or encapsulate what this team was about or how impressive their season truly was. Hell. It's impossible. This is the stuff schmaltzy Disney movies are made of. A group of underdogs and freshmen that went out and gave the world all it could handle. But even that's not true. This is an extremely talented ball club that was just as good as the defending national champions. They are well coached and disciplined. They have no fear and will give no deference to anyone. They didn't eek into the tournament. They belonged there. And Sunday proved that.
Still, I want the dream to continue. I don't care that it's over and I'm awake, I want to force myself to go back to sleep and recapture even a small silver of the feeling I had. Why I did I have to wake up? They were so close. That's not how dreams are supposed to end, right?
But it did. On Sunday a wonderful season came to its conclusion when the horn sounded and the alarm went off. And no matter how many time I hit the snooze button, I can't get back to sleep. So I might as well get up, make coffee, and remember the wonderful sensation that ran through me as I watched my Michigan play its heart out. It was a dream season in every sense of the phrase.
I just wish I didn't have to wake up from it.