INDIANAPOLIS – What a perfect story for March. That a Michigan player you’ve probably never heard – a sophomore averaging seven minutes and under three points a game – could have just very likely shot the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament. And someone else out of it.
Or that a reserve from obscurity could suddenly author a moment that will get talked about in Ann Arbor for years.
This is the way it was in the final seconds for Michigan against Indiana Friday in the Big Ten Tournament: Score tied, four seconds left, the Wolverines on the edge of the NCAA tournament bubble and ready to fall with a splash into the NIT with a loss. The ball in hands of Kameron Chatman in the corner.
By now, there have been a thousand replays of what happened next. A hesitation by Chatman. A momentary look of indecision. Then the shot over the fingers of Indiana’s Nick Zeisloft. Swish. Game over. A 72-69 Michigan victory, a 22-11 record, and maybe enough to get its name called Sunday evening.
You want living on the brink? The Wolverines were 0-for-10 in 3-pointers in the second half – until they hit two in the final 46 seconds.
"I think," guard Derrick Walton Jr. said in the locker room afterward, "people are living right off the court, man."
Now, four pertinent questions:
Who’s Kameron Chatman?
Did he really almost not even take the biggest shot of Michigan’s season?
For that matter, what was he even doing in the game, anyway?
And finally, who out there will pay the price for what he did?
From the top. Chatman is a reserve from Oregon who has not seen anything close to the playing time he’d like. He had seven 3-pointers to his name this season before Friday. Now he has eight.
"Hard work and staying focused, just helping my teammates who believed in me, it means a lot to me," he said.
Coach John Beilein mentioned how Chatman had "spent the first two years, a lot of time sitting down in the bench with us. But he's "yes sir, no sir," working hard every single day, trying to grow his game. And for him to be rewarded with that big shot, with that moment that he will always be remembered for, is worth it for me knowing he has done such a great job of handling all of his adversity of not playing.’’
OK, No. 2. Was there an instant, after he got a pass from Walton, that he wasn’t even going to put up the shot? It certainly looked like it.
"I didn't think Derrick was going to pass it to me, and he ended up passing it to me. And I hesitated a little bit, but then seeing how much time was on the clock, and then I just let it go," he said. "It felt good when it left my hands, so it was pretty good."
Walton talked of how in those last seconds, "Everything kind of went in slow motion for me." He was trying to get open, but then saw Chatman in the corner as Zeisloft came over to stop him, and made the pass. But wanting it back. "I was pleading for the ball, actually pleading. Please throw it back. But he’s one of my closest friends. That dude is supremely confident in himself. To get that ball back would have been a one-in-a-lifetime chance.’’
So really, what was Chatman doing out there, anyway?
When Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman fouled out, Beilein decided to go with Chatman as another offensive option. Not that he expected a lot from someone shooting 27 percent in 3-pointers.
"And that's the last guy we would have -- you know, if we would have called a timeout, I probably would have done something and said, 'Kam, you go to the other corner if we're going to run that play," Beilein said.
"I think it was at the four-minute media (timeout)," Duncan Robinson said, "Coach B said to us – I think it was Derrick, myself and Zak (Irvin) – that one of us was going to hit one. He didn’t say anything to Kam much. (But) Kam was listening extra hard on that one."
Robinson’s 3-pointer with 46 seconds left tied the game and broke the 0-for-10 drought, but the winner came from the one Wolverine the Hoosiers never expected. Indiana coach Tom Crean later said it was a mistake for his defense to leave him open in the corner, but Beilein understood.
"If I was guarding in that game and I knew Kam's history as a three-point shooter, I would have given help off the corner as well, because his history would say he was not going to make that. I do see him in practice make it more and more often, and it's just a big thing for him in his career right now."
So finally, did it open the NCAA Tournament gate for the Wolverines? It was the kind of game that often can; an example of strong-willed survival after 18 lead changes and 12 ties, against the Big Ten champion.
"That committee does what they do," Walton said. "It’s their job for a reason. It’s our job to play. We’ll find out Sunday, I guess."
But if Michigan is in, then someone else is out. The sudden stardom of Kameron Chatman was a fun thing to watch. But maybe not for Pittsburgh, or Monmouth, or Vanderbilt, or Saint Mary’s or ...