Michigan 71 (23-8, 13-5), Penn State 65 (12-19, 4-14)
Michigan's first bucket of the day was a Tim Hardaway Jr. three, streaking through the air like a comet, a manifested harbinger. Seconds in, the outcome was determined. Close the book, turn out the lights.
Michigan put up a reasonable number of threes (18) and made ten of them; they were, as they say, en fuego. Penn State rallied back as teams often do--holding a 15+ lead is easier said than done--but they game was really never in doubt. When PSU brought it to within 6 after sneakily managing a 13-0 run, Zack "True Grit" Novak hit an off-balanced two to momentarily halt the advance. Later, with Michigan up only four in the final minute, THJ spun full circle, away from an imminent double team, dribbling past the free throw line extended. Rise and fire.
Hardaway Jr. shot the lights out for the second game in a row, Smotrycz demonstrated the confidence which at one point in the conference schedule began to assume a retrospective patina of unreality, and Burke was Burke. With the threes falling and Michigan dominating a conference opponent--leading by as much as 19--in spite of having a less-than-ideal roster to work with and an opponent rebounding 45% of its misses, you'd have to imagine that John Beilein was of the rare mental state that coaches find themselves in when everything's going well, when stress is just a remote foreign concept, like driving on the left side of the road, a place without collegiate athletics, and the nation of Djibouti. Tell him that Penn State beat us to the boards almost half of the time when we were on defense and he won't even hear you. He's too busy smiling.
Later that day, William Buford would go on to hit a nearly impossible shot. As much credit as we owe him for that, I find it hard to believe that this moment decidedly outside of our realm of agency is the ultimate validator of this team's season. Thank you, though. I switched away from the Blackhawks-Red Wings game just in time to catch Buford's final crushing yet saving salvo. In the split second that it took for me to go through the neurons started to fire out increasingly incomprehensible, nonsensical thoughts--Buford scores, OSU wins, split championship, WOOOOO, first since '86, WOOOOOO, MUPPETS, WOOOOOO--a tiny kernel preceded these events like the preface before the chapters of a book.
What were the players thinking?
We are all a little bit Stu Douglass, mouths agape. Oh man. We're also a little bit of Zack Novak, with our shirts off in the back of the room, at the very edge, as if he were about balanced on the very edge of the world, his balance determined by the outcome of this game being played somewhere else. Michigan had won a Big Ten championship. Juxtapose the above scene with Dali's "Persistence of Memory" and I'd simply nod. Michigan basketball won something.
They are us and we are them. Everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Time is everything and everything is Time. The national championship in 1989, the day that sanctions fell, the Ellerbe hiring, the Amaker hiring, the Beilein hiring, Darius Morris leaving, Trey Burke changing his mind, this game...all part of the same moment. They're all the same thing in that they all lead to now, this time of ours.
I visited MGoBlue.com on Sunday night only to find championship shirts already available. My win is your win, capitalism. As I debated between the maize, blue, and gray options provided, I thought about that shirt, which I've mentioned here before many times. As I debated which color was best--and if I shouldn't just buy all three out of respect--I pictured that shirt, sitting in my closet, having been worn many times this year and many times since one of the cheerleaders threw it into the student section my freshman year in a game against Central Michigan, which we lost.
It is a context-less shirt, devoid of any meaning except that which the wearer brings to it. It is a dull yellow, not even pretending to be the more rambunctious highlighter yellow that has become maize over the years. The only text on the shirt reads, "2007 2008 Michigan basketball," with a large block M bisecting the two years. Other than that, the shirt was minimalistic and matter-of-fact, more a statement of time than a prideful association. It is 2007, and this happens to be Michigan basketball. Here's a shirt.
Yes, it was a cheap shirt used during a t-shirt toss, but the maker of the shirt unknowingly produced what would become a valuable relic. In this way, wearing it has become a sort of inside joke and as well as a reminder, a wearable admonition to remember that which preceded all of this.