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Michigan’s Momentary Swag Overdose Ended Houston’s Thrill Ride

It was the most shocking play of Saturday night. In a tournament that has been full of surprises, Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater to take Michigan into the Sweet 16 was as big as any.

Houston v Michigan Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Friday, UMBC beat Virginia, the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, hypothetically the most improbable thing we’d seen in this tournament or any. A men’s no. 16 seed hadn’t beaten a 1-seed in 135 tries. But after Michigan’s buzzer-beater to defeat Houston 64–63 on Saturday night, I’m not sure the 1–16 upset was the most improbable thing in the tournament. If Jordan Poole got to take this shot 135 more times, do you think he would’ve hit it again?

I mean, look at this damn shot:

Poole’s a good shooter, 37.8 percent from behind the arc on the year, but he had hit just two of his past 13 3-point attempts. He’s at least 35 feet from the hoop on the play, one the team calls “Indiana,” one they’ve apparently practiced “thousands” of times. But there isn’t much that can prepare you for the moment when you have just over a second to shoot for your school’s life. There’s a defender guarding Poole about as tightly as a shot can be defended, forcing him to shoot at a higher angle than he’d normally want to shoot. The force of hurling a ball so high and so far gets Poole way off-balance, as he splits his legs while shooting and tumbles to the ground.

He swished it. And then he ran for his life, in mortal fear of the 7-foot German man trying to physically engulf him.

As coach John Beilein would tell it, Poole hit the shot due to a swag overdose.

But thrill of victory, agony of defeat, etc.

I picked Michigan to beat Houston. I picked the Wolverines to make the Elite Eight, in fact. But when I saw Poole hit his absolutely preposterous game-winner, I was absolutely gutted. Houston did everything right. This was its first trip to the tournament under Kelvin Sampson, who has revitalized the Cougars program, and they were one of the most fun teams remaining. They beat San Diego State on 39 points and a game-winner by Rob Gray, owner of the greatest man bun in sports history. And on Saturday night, they seemed to have locked in their place in the Sweet 16.

The Cougars got a stop up 62–61, and Devin Davis got a rebound. He was quickly fouled, and went to the line, having hit all eight of his first eight free throws. But he went 1-for-2 on that trip. Houston stopped Michigan again, Davis got another rebound, and got fouled again. And having previously gone 9-for-10 on the night, Davis missed both of his free throws, setting Michigan up to potentially hit a game-winner.

And Houston played perfect defense! It stopped Michigan’s ball handler on the play, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, near the half-court line. They forced Poole into a shot he should never hit. And they lost. Davis was spotted standing at the free throw line nearly an hour after the game was over.

We’ve had three brilliant days of buzzer-beaters and upsets. March is truly the greatest and the worst.