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Column: How an unselfish play led to the biggest shot of Michigan’s season

With the clock running down, a Michigan senior looked to a freshman for a moment to keep his season alive. He didn’t miss the opportunity.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Houston vs Michigan Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With just seconds to play in the NCAA Tournament Second Round contest between No. 6 Houston and No. 3 Michigan, senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had the ball in his hands.

He had the chance to deliver, be a hero and send his team to the Sweet 16 with a make. Instead, with just six seconds to play he missed a layup he makes most days.

It just rolled off. U-M was forced to foul, it seemed to be this team full of energy and fuel to burn had finally hit empty on the gas gauge.

Rewind to before that happened. After the Cougars took the lead on a pair of free throws from senior forward Devin Davis, Abdur-Rahkman had a chance to make a jump shot in the lane.

The shot didn’t go through. Transfer guard Charles Matthews had a chance to tip it in. No luck there.

It just didn’t seem like the Wolverines’ night. It felt like fate had finally caught up to them.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Houston vs Michigan Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Then Davis — who moments ago seemed like the hero for U-H — missed two free throws to ice away the game. U-M was able to rebound and call a timeout with 3.6 seconds to play.

Inbounding from under its own basket, Belein and U-M knew they had to get the ball down quickly. Freshman forward Isaiah Livers found Abdur-Rahkman near mid-court.

The senior had another chance. He could’ve heaved it from half court and hoped for the best. A chance to redeem an easy miss moments before with a bucket that would be his signature mark at U-M.

Instead, he looked to his right and made the extra pass — something that U-M has made a trademark since John Beilein took the keys as head coach.

Receiving the pass was the Wolverines freshman fireplug Jordan Poole. Someone who had made 1-of-10 3-pointers since the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. A struggling shooter looking to regain a rhythm he had built all season long.

Without even thinking, Poole took the shot with a hand in his face from about 30-feet out.

Splash. Joy. Advance.

After watching this team all season, this team is truly unique from past Beilein squads. They have an unselfishness unlike any other. They don’t use Trey Burke or Derrick Walton Jr. for a must-have basket. It’s a confidence in every player on the team, the best look is the best choice.

It’s no question that players do have roles. Moritz Wagner is still the teams emotional leader and probably the best player. Abdur-Rahkman is someone the team does look to for buckets. Zavier Simpson is now looked at as the player who controls this team on the court after being put behind freshman Eli Brooks in November.

So what is it for Poole? He said after a win on Jan. 6 against Illinois that he just had to wait on his time to come.

“It’s all a part of a process we younger guys have been going through since we started playing (at U-M),” Poole said. “There’s a lot to learn but we’re doing the best we can. When my number is called, I just want to make plays and help this team win.

“Isaiah (Livers) and myself just want to help the team. Eventually, our moment will come.”

Whether he expected it or not, that moment landed in Poole’s hands with just over a second remaining in a win or go home scenario on Saturday night (or early Sunday morning).

He excelled. His senior teammate trusted him, gave up a bad shot for a better one. And Poole connected for a buzzer-beater that will be talked about for years to come.