Five Key Plays: Michigan at Illinois


1) Darius Morris behind-the-back pass to Zack Novak

Tim Doyle, who was unfortunately calling the game last night, almost had a heart attack every time Michigan ran the floor and constantly called for the Wolverines to slow it down. Michigan is by no means a fast-break team, but with Darius Morris on the floor it’s not always a horrible option. This play was a little flashy, but it was irrefutably awesome and turned out to be the right play to make in that situation. Darius gets the deflection off a long rebound and pushes the ball upcourt with Zack trailing slightly on his left side. Darius finds himself in a 2-on-2 situation with Demetri McCamey shading the passing lane from Darius to Zack. Darius throws a great behind-the-back pass to Zack before McCamey can react to it, and Zack makes a great pump-fake to finish strong. Michigan was very aggressive early on the offensive end, hitting their first five shots, and this was a great example of how that aggressiveness paid off.

2) Zack Novak’s backdoor cuts in the 2nd half

What we have here is a pair of beautifully executed back-door cuts by Zack Novak. Darius assisted on the first and Matt Vogrich assisted on the second. Darius and Matt both deserve recognition for these passes — both were tough plays to make — but this is also a great example of Zack doing exactly the right thing and cutting hard. If you’re going to make a backdoor cut, you have to cut hard, and that’s just what Zack does, from the same spot on the court each time. He starts out by drifting to the free-throw line extended and flashing for a pass. His defender bites in an attempt to deny him the ball, and Zack quickly reverses and bolts backdoor. Both times, his teammates found him for easy layups. It was nothing fancy but it was well executed and easy baskets like this are always a nice perk. It’s tough to call any basket more “key” than any other in this game for Michigan because they made so few, but getting easy layups was just what the Wolverines needed, especially when they didn’t seem to be bale to hit anything outside of 10 feet.

3) Demetri McCamey’s late 3-pointer

Here’s where this edition of Five Key Plays starts to get ugly. If you’re still stinging from this one, it might be best to skip the video. This is Demetri McCamey’s huge 3-pointer with 6:35 left to play that put the Illini up four. Michigan had brought the game to within one point despite continuing to make bad plays and miss shots down the stretch. It was at this point Michigan fans started thinking, “I can’t believe we’re still in this game, we might be able to steal it,” and then McCamey comes down the court and does what he’s been doing in the Big Ten for years now: hits a big shot. This was a really tough shot to defend, no matter how you slice it. Illinois ran McCamey through not one but two picks to get him an open look. First, Stu Douglass was picked by Tisdale. Then he was picked by D.J. Richardson just as McCamey received the ball. Stu did pretty much all he could — just a well-executed play by Illinois and a monster shot by McCamey, especially with single digits on the shot clock.

4) Michigan’s offense stalls down the stretch

These were some really discombobulated final possessions for Michigan . The Wolverines were down by three points for almost the last three minutes of the game, and simply couldn’t buy a bucket on multiple trips down the court. The shots they took weren’t great, especially settling for jumpshots on the first two possessions. On the first possession, Stu’s shot is truly ill-advised. Despite having a terrible shooting night, Douglass fired up a pull-up 18 foot jumper with over 20 seconds left on the shotclock. Michigan coaches continually stress the importance of every possession and this was a case where Michigan just wasted one. Darius’ pull-up on the next possession was similar, but the sophomore got a little more separation from his man and the shot clock was running down. On the last trip down, Beilein calls a timeout after running the shot clock down to 18 seconds and out of that Michigan gets a rushed layup in traffic as the shot clock expires. It certainly wasn’t what they were going for, but Darius’ miss on that play set up the final Key Play…

5) The last play

By the end of this play, I was on my knees on the floor of my buddy’s house and feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. This was a rough ending to a similarly rough game. Like Dylan said in the recap, we can argue about whether or not Evan Smotrycz should have driven to the hoop on that last shot or shot the 3-pointer until the cows come home. My two cents: go for the win on the road, it was as open as you’ll find a last shot to win the game. Nice pump-fake to get open, but he just couldn’t get it to fall. He has consistently made nice pump fakes this season but Smotrycz needs to do a better job of collection himself before he shoots, in this case it seemed that his momentum pushed his shot wide. On Stu’s actual last shot of the game, I’m actually pretty sure that would’ve been a two even if he would have made it. Agonizingly close nonetheless. The frustration from this game doesn’t stem from the fact that they lost, but the fact that Michigan could have so easily won if they would have simply hit a few more shots down the line.

  • Man I don’t like to watch highlights of this game. For as bad as UM shot and played at times, we could have had that one.

  • JimC

    Very nice selections.
    You’re right Joe, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch 3 & 4. It was so frustrating to watch the first time around.

    On the other hand, I did finally check out “Havana Lover” after #1–it’s shown up a few times in 5 key plays. Not bad.

  • georgeesq.

    There’s NO WAY Smotrycz should have put the ball on the floor on that last play. He did not have a clear path to the hoop, and he was starting beyond the three point line. He would have been cut off long before he got near the hoop. There was 5 seconds left when he shot – perfect timing because it gives you time for an offensive rebound if the shot is missed. There can be no second guessing that shot.

    • Gary

      Agreed – the path was clear at the instant he shot but there were at least two Illini players moving to cut him off. Smotrycz isn’t quick enough to make the sure play on the drive.

  • ForeverBlue23

    Looks to me like the second pick on McCamey’s could have been called a foul.

    • georgeesq.

      You won’t see that call made. The real problem was Stu losing sight of McCamey just long enough to allow McCamey to get enough separation to make Tisdale’s screen effective. Had he stayed closer to McCamey, he could have easily gotten around that screen.

  • Sid

    I think Morris got a little bit lucky on that behind the back pass. But it was “right” in the Sheedian sense that ball don’t lie.

  • Brian W

    Now that WJR has been sold, hopefully U-M can negotiate a deal with them in the future. The radio coverage area for U-M football and basketball took a hit when they switched flagship stations.

  • Mattski

    That behind the back pass is outrageous. It’s almost like a few frames of film had to be removed to make it work–in truth the angle wasn’t there, the defender was in the way. Hope someone will put together all of Morris’s highlights at year’s end. That and the half-court pass through five Iowa defenders are plays for the ages.

    • georgeesq.

      It was a dumb play that worked. Also, give Novak credit for finishing in traffic.

  • A2MIKE

    I think the play by Smotz was both wrong and right in a peculiar way. The truly correct play there was to drive and kick to either Douglass or Hardaway. If you watch the play again, both guys are at the top of the key and both of their defenders have lost sight of their man and would be coming into the lane to help on a drive, both would be wide open for the win. You live and learn. Hopefully, JB notices this and makes some adjustments. Michigan’s best asset is the ability to drive and kick, not drive and finish. Right to shoot instead of drive and shoot, wrong to shoot instead of driving and setting up Hardaway or Douglass.