ANN ARBOR — For the Michigan basketball team, it was all just seconds away.
A share of its second straight Big Ten championship. A first-round bye in the conference tournament. A possible top seed in the national tourney.
And, then, just as a sold-out Crisler Arena was set to detonate with joy, it was gone. All of it.
With a last-minute sequence as gut-punching as it was unfathomable, Michigan fell 72-71 to second-ranked Indiana on Sunday — and the wails could be heard from Ann Arbor to Columbus.
The No. 7 Wolverines (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten) appeared to gain control of a back-and-forth thriller that would have vaulted them into a four-way first-place tie with IU, Ohio State, and Michigan State, when Murphy’s Law leveled the home team with an anvil.
In the biggest regular-season game of this new Michigan basketball era, the Wolverines gave away a five-point lead with less than 40 seconds remaining. Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Trey Burke missed the front end of consecutive one-and-one free throw opportunities, while the Hoosiers kept scoring — including on a Cody Zeller layup that put IU ahead 72-71 with 14 seconds left.
Michigan forward Jordan Morgan had a point-blank tip-in attempt off of a Burke miss in the final seconds. But a ball UM coach John Beilein said he thought "for sure" was going in spun cruelly around the rim and off, and into Indiana’s grip.
The Hoosiers tore onto the court in celebration of their first outright Big Ten title since 1993, while Michigan’s players froze in disbelief.
Hands on hips, Beilein remained still for several seconds after the buzzer before turning to shake hands with IU coach Tom Crean. Many fans also were stunned, still staring blankly into the distance more than 15 minutes later.
"Tomorrow’s a new day," Hardaway said, "and hopefully we can move on from this."
Now, the Wolverines enter this week’s Big Ten tournament as the No. 5 seed — a steep fall from its perch atop the country just last month. UM will play 12th-seeded Penn State in a first-round game on Thursday.
In the final Big Ten standings, Ohio State and Michigan State tied for second, while UM and Wisconsin tied for fourth, with the Badgers owning the tiebreaker.
"This hurts for all of us," Burke said. "We had an opportunity to get a share of the Big Ten championship, but we have other goals in mind that we can still go after. I guess that’s how we have to look at it."
Said Beilein: "This is going to make us better somehow. That's the only approach we can have."
If there was poetry in college basketball, this madcap Big Ten race would have ended with the the first four-way tie atop the league since 1926. But the game and the finish did the season justice.
Indiana’s national player-of-the-year candidates Victor Oladipo (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Zeller (25 points, 10 rebounds) turned in star performances, while the sophomore Burke (20 points) made a final statement of his own. In a game that featured 14 lead changes, it was Burke, possibly playing his final home game before leaving for NBA riches, who led the can-you-top-this exchanges down the stretch.
Burke scored 16 points over the final 16 minutes, including a step-back 3 that rattled in to put UM ahead 64-62 and the score that tied the game at 66.
"It may sound crazy," Beilein said, "but what a great basketball game."
Ultimately, Michigan was undone by its disappearance on the boards and another in a line of late-game swoons this season. Indiana, longer and more aggressive, had 53 rebounds — including 24 offensive boards — to Michigan’s 30.
Of the 24 offensive rebounds, Hardaway said, "That’s unheard of. That’s a disgrace and an embarrassment."
Still, all anyone will remember is the final minute — a stretch that for, better or worse, will burrow into both programs’ lore.
After Glenn Robinson III hit one of two foul shots to put Michigan ahead 71-66, Indiana closed the game on a 6-0 run over the final 38 seconds. Two inside scores and a pair of free throws by Zeller went unanswered as Hardaway and Burke missed the front end of one-and-ones.
"I know our guys wouldn’t want anybody besides Trey and I on the line," Hardaway said. "It just didn’t fall. What else can I say?"
Michigan’s final chance came on a play Beilein calls "123," in which Morgan sets a high on-ball screen for Burke, then streaks back to the basket to rebound. With 14 seconds remaining, it went as planned as Burke drove for a good look and the miss caromed to Morgan, who had an open put-back attempt.
"I just though for sure it was going in," Beilein said. "It would have been great."
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.