INDIANAPOLIS – Tracy Abrams had the ball right where he wanted it — in his own hands with a drive to the basket.
The junior guard just came up short.
Jordan Morgan scored on a layup with 7.9 seconds left Friday and Abrams missed what would have been the winning shot at the buzzer, allowing No. 8 Michigan to survive a quarterfinal scare with a 64-63 win in the Big Ten tournament.
"I thought it was going to go in, and I thought we were going to win and I had the utmost confidence," said Abrams, after staring at the rim in disbelief. "I wasn't shocked that we lost, but shocked the shot didn't go in."
Abrams and Illinois (19-14) did everything they could to pull off the upset.
They charged back from a 13-point second-half deficit with brilliant zone defense. They outrebounded the Wolverines 33-26. They committed only nine turnovers and shot better from the field than Michigan, too.
The difference was two bounces. Morgan's shot went in, Abrams' did not.
"That one stings a little bit. When you pour your heart and soul into something, you play as hard as our guys did today, I thought our effort was great, I thought our attitude was off the charts, and thought our execution for the most part was good," Illinois coach John Groce said.
Morgan has been there before.
A little more than one year ago, Morgan's last-second tip-in would have given the Wolverines a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, but it rolled off the rim.
The 6-foot-8 forward didn't let it happen again.
"I'm telling you — I probably exaggerate — 10,000 times, at least 2,000 times in five years Jordan Morgan has run that same drill," Michgan coach John Beilein said. "There's a bag to hit him, you still got to catch it in a crowd and keep it up and dunk it if he can. He said he wanted to add a little drama to the game, so he decided to put it up on the rim."
It's about time something went right for the Wolverines (24-7) in this tournament.
Since going 3-0 to win the first title in 1998, Michigan has not won more than one game in the annual tourney. The Wolverines later vacated that tourney title because of NCAA infractions, and Michigan has endured everything from an embarrassing 21-turnover game in a 2006 first-round loss to Evan Turner's buzzer-beating 40-foot heave, which gave rival Ohio State a 69-68 quarterfinal win in 2010.
Things are supposed to be different this year.
After ending a 28-year drought between outright regular-season titles with a win at Illinois last week, Michigan came into this weekend with the No. 1 tourney seed for the first time in school history and with a full head of steam — six straight wins.
But it almost happened again.
Michigan scored just six points in the final 7½ minutes and then wound up getting bailed out by Morgan when Big Ten player of the year changed the play coach John Beilein called in the huddle.
"I was looking to be aggressive and raised up to shoot and man, the guy guarding me was still chasing me and the big was chasing me too and J-Mo rolled down the lane and he was wide open," Stauskas said. "I hit him with the ball and he laid it in."
The Wolverines' usual trio led the way. Stauskas had 19 points despite going 4 of 12 from the field and 2 of 10 on 3-pointers against Illinois' zone defense, Glenn Robinson III had 15 points and seven rebounds and Caris LeVert finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Morgan, however, made the only two shots he took — none bigger than the layup he never expected that sent Michigan into Saturday's semifinals against either fourth-seeded Nebraska or fifth-seeded Ohio State, who played in the second quarterfinal of the day.
"As far as catching it, I just put it on the rim and got a nice roll," he said.
Illinois' zone defense changed game.
Following a media timeout with 11:26 left, Stauskas made two free throws to give the Wolverines a 55-44 lead. The Illini answered with 10 straight points and finally took the lead on Rice's driving layup with 4:53 left.
Michigan tied the score at 61 with 3:10 to go, but all the Wolverines could muster the rest of the way was one free throw from Stauskas until the surprised Morgan got the right roll.
"Well, we're thrilled to get that win because as you can see, as Illinois has shown in their last six games, how well the program has played after a tough January," Beilein said. "They proved how good they were, and, fortunately, we got some good bounces around the basket to finish the game."