ARLINGTON, Tex. — Trey Burke was inundated with more than 200 congratulatory text messages after hitting the shot of his career in Michigan’s come-from-behind thriller over Kansas on Friday night.
Launched audaciously from about 30 feet, Burke’s shot knotted the score with four seconds remaining — erasing what had been a 10-point deficit with 2 minutes 52 seconds to play in regulation — and forced overtime. Michigan ultimately scored an 87-85 win, advancing to Sunday’s South Region final.
On Saturday, Michigan fans clamored for photographs of the shot that saved the Wolverines’ season. Meanwhile, sportswriters debated its place in Michigan basketball history, with some drawing parallels to Rumeal Robinson’s free throws that clinched the 1989 NCAA championship, and asking Burke and Coach John Beilein to weigh in.
While duly proud, Burke fielded questions about his heroics as succinctly as possible, eager to shift the focus to the business at hand: the challenge posed by No. 3 Florida (29-7), whose towering defense stands in the way of a place in the Final Four.
“I’m thankful for that shot, but that’s in the past,” said the 6-foot Burke, who has established himself as a leading candidate for national player of the year honors. “We really don’t have time to reminisce on the last game.”
It has been 19 years since Michigan appeared in an NCAA region final. For many, the success of Beilein’s young squad, which starts three freshmen, one sophomore (Burke) and one junior, stirs memories of the Fab Five era of old, when a class of basketball prodigies led the Wolverines to back-to-back NCAA title games their freshman and sophomore years.
To be sure, Beilein’s bunch may be led by a prodigy. Burke, widely acknowledged as the best point guard in the country, is only 20. But the sophomore competes with a veteran’s wiles.
“I like to say, ‘There are some guys that have been here before,’ ” said Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan, who works with the Wolverine guards and likens Burke, in that sense, to an old basketball soul. “He shows a lot of those qualities and characteristics, where you think, ‘Man, this kid has been here before.’ ”
For starters, Burke has a full understanding of the point guard’s role and responsibility in creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, above all. That’s what he tends to devote himself to early in games, as he did against Kansas, and then looks for chances to score himself only after he has established an offensive flow.
Against Kansas, Burke was held scoreless in the first half, going 0 for 4 from the field, but he had five assists.
“He was doing what a point guard is supposed to do, and that’s get his teammates involved,” back-court mate Tim Hardaway Jr. said.
Late in the second half, with the Wolverines trailing by double digits, Burke started driving to the basket and creating just enough space for open three-pointers. By game’s end, he had scored 23 points and hit four three-pointers, including the clutch bomb that forced overtime.
Burke also plays with a veteran’s pace. Thrust into the starting role as a freshman last season, he tended to rush matters, goaded into playing at the pace his opponents forced. With a second year of seasoning, he has fine-tuned his internal game clock and the confidence to listen to it.
Florida Coach Billy Donovan, himself a distinguished point guard in his college days, noted that knack in the way Burke managed the final 30 seconds of regulation against Kansas. With Michigan trailing by five, 76-71, with 21 seconds remaining, Burke drove for a layup that pulled his team within three points.
Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson then missed the front end of a one-and-one, a stroke of good fortune.
Beilein had told Burke to drive for a basket and try to draw a foul to tie it. But as Burke sized up the Kansas defense, the clock at 10 seconds and ticking, he didn’t think he had time. His only shot, he decided, was a long one. Really long — from well behind the arc.
So he squared up and let it fly.
“Not only is he playing the game, but he’s also measuring the game: How are you guarding? What’s open? What can he do?” Donovan said. “And he understands the length and time of 40 minutes. He’s got the ability to explode at any point in time in the game.”
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