By Zach Wagner | @zachwagner22
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – As the ball and the moment arrived all at once, the final seconds disappearing near the end of the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal, Michigan’s Kameron Chatman found himself in unfamiliar territory with a game and potential NCAA bid on the line. Chatman was in the right corner of the court. Beyond the three-point line. And suddenly, with Michigan and No. 1 seed Indiana tied, the ball was in his hands.
What happened next not only broke the collective spirit of most of the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but it forever cemented the name Kam Chatman into a century of Michigan basketball lore.
“I hesitated a little bit,” said Chatman. “But then seeing how much time was on the clock, I just let it go. It felt good when it left my hands.”
Chatman’s shot with 0.2 seconds to play gave the Wolverines a 72-69 victory, gave the NCAA selection committee a reason to double check Michigan’s resume, and ended the hopes of Indiana, the regular-season champion, to win its first Big Ten tournament championship. The Wolverines (22-11) advanced to a semifinal game against Purdue, which defeated Illinois. The Hoosiers (25-7), whose 28-0 run in the 80-67 regular-season victory at Michigan on Feb. 2 was the largest in a conference game in Big Ten history, must wait for their NCAA tournament destination.
“It’s not how we defend,” said Indiana junior Troy Williams, who led the Hoosiers with 16 points. “It’s not how we practice. We don’t practice coming off shooters in the corner.”
The finish was set up by several decisive moments that started with a missed free throw by Indiana senior Yogi Ferrell that kept the Wolverines within 3 points with 1:01 to play.
Michigan sophomore Duncan Robinson, the transfer from Williams College, had made 3 of 11 shots to that point and was 0-for-5 beyond the 3-point line. But Robinson remembered thinking to himself that he was going to put up a shot on the next possession if he could get open.
“When I was running down the court, I knew that I had the ability to get open out on the wing,” said Robinson. “My shot hadn’t been falling all game, but I knew that if I got an open look I was taking it.”
Gaining an arm length of space on the left wing, his 3-pointer tied the game at 69. He finished the game with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting and added three assists to Michigan’s final total of 18. “Chatman’s three hurt,” Indiana’s Williams said, “but it was more Robinson’s three that hurt us even more.”
When Hoosier freshman O.G. Anunoby lost the ball on Chatman’s steal – Indiana’s 15th turnover – Michigan, which trailed by 5 points with 2:36 to go, was in position to take the last shot.
Chatman, a 6-foot, 8-inch sophomore from Portland, Ore., played for just eight minutes and had made one of two shots. He averaged 2.8 points in seven minutes per game this season. In his two seasons, Chatman made 26.6 percent of his three-point shots.
Even as Chatman has spent most of his time on the bench during his two seasons at Michigan, that hasn’t stopped him from leaving a strong impression on his head coach and teammates.
“He’s, yes sir, no sir, working hard every single day, trying to grow his game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “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.”
Chatman’s opportunity developed as Michigan’s NCAA tournament hopes reached a crisis point. Sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who scored 15 points, fouled out with 1:01 to play, and Beilein had a decision to make. Michigan’s sixth man, sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins, a 6-6 swingman with a 7.0-point scoring average, was an option. But Beilein decided on Chatman.
“He is one of our better flow players on offense,” Beilein said of Chatman. “We can run things through him. And so we ended up just going with it, instead of putting Aubrey in there at that point.” The insertion of Dawkins would have required having several players change positions. Junior guard Zak Irvin, who led Michigan with 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting, moved to the second guard spot. Chatman offered continuity.
As the play unfolded, and Michigan spread the floor with Walton directing the team, there was another decision to make. Michigan had one remaining timeout. “I said, ‘We can’t get this by calling a timeout,’” Beilein remembered. “So let him just go.”
When Walton’s pass was on its way, Chatman was ready. “I knew that we were what coach calls double-eyeballing, and I knew I was going to be in the corner,” he said. “And so I told myself that I was going to be ready to shoot it. But I didn’t think Derrick was going to pass it to me.”
Walton passed, and Chatman shot, and soon there was a pile at the Michigan bench. “They basically tackled me,” said Chatman. “I’ve never had that many people focused on me like that before.”
Walton’s assist, his 12th of the game, broke a single-game tournament record. In the Michigan dressing room, Chatman’s teammates echoed their coach’s theme.
“He’s one of those guys that you just can’t help but root for,” said Abdur-Rahkman. “He’s always giving it all he has in practice and, man, I just can’t tell you how happy I am for him.”
Robinson pointed to Chatman’s character as the reason he has so much respect for him.
“He’s so unselfish,” said Robinson. “Whatever it takes for the team to win, Kam’s going to do. And that’s the kinda guy you want on the team.”
With the loss, Indiana’s Big Ten tournament record fell to 11-19. The Hoosiers have not reached the semifinal round since the 2006 tournament. In the ten tournaments since, Indiana has lost 10 of 13 games.
“I thought we battled extremely hard and well,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean as he sat with Ferrell and Williams in the interview room. “We weren’t always efficient, but we played with great purpose, and we wouldn’t be in the position of being the champion without these two and their teammates. What we’ve got to do is we have to look at this film, see where we can make our corrections, continue to make our team better.”
As Chatman stood in the locker room after the game, with over 25 cameras and microphones in his face, he hadn’t realized that Walton Jr., had snuck into the crowd with his phone out like a reporter. When the next pause between questions came, Walton, giggling between his words, had a question:
“Question over here,” said Walton. “What did you think of that sweet pass?”
Chatman laughed and nodded. “Honestly,” he said, “I was thinking about giving the ball right back to Derrick, to tell you the truth.”