Wolverines understand fate helped them make it to Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Michigan’s bus trip to Indianapolis was much more peaceful than last week’s harrowing plane mishap.
Players and coaches even managed to catch up on some much-needed rest during their four-hour jaunt to Indianapolis.
But after arriving in town Wednesday, the Wolverine players were peppered with another round of questions about what happened and how they responded by winning four games in four days to earn the Big Ten Tournament title. Coach John Beilein knew it could have been so much worse.
”You know, I tried not to think about it, particularly if the plane would have got up in the air. I don’t think it makes it,” Beilein said Thursday. ”Obviously, it didn’t have enough force to get up in the air, but if it gets up a little bit, now we’ve got a whole different deal. So thank goodness, the pilot put on the brakes.”
The pilot of the plane taking Michigan to Washington, D.C., for the league tournament on March 8 decided to abort the takeoff on a day marked by high winds. The aircraft slid off the runway , skidded through a fence and came to a stop off a low embankment. Emergency slides were used, but no one was hurt.
At 64, Beilein has around has been around college sports long enough to remember the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 Marshall football players, the 1977 plane crash that took lives of 14 Evansville basketball players and their head coach, and the 2001 plane crash in eastern Colorado that killed two Oklahoma State basketball players and eight staff members.
As the days played out, Beilein started thinking about those tragedies. He even contemplated how former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton tried to pull his team together as the 2000-01 season continued.
All of it he kept mostly to himself.
”I thought about that,” he said when asked about the Oklahoma State crash. ”I thought about Evansville. I thought about Marshall. You think about all those tragedies that have happened in sports that really there’s a lot of – we’re just blessed. We’re just blessed that it never got to that point.”
The looming question is whether the seventh-seeded Wolverines (24-11) will keep their momentum after having some time to unwind?
Seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, who is playing near his hometown of Fishers, Indiana, acknowledged they’ve spent most of this week isolated from other students as they focused squarely on beating the 10th-seeded Cowboys (20-12).
Another win would pit the Wolverines against second-seeded Louisville (24-8) or 15th-seeded Jacksonville State (20-14) on Sunday. Two wins in Indy would send Michigan to the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Oklahoma State has won only one NCAA Tournament game since Sutton retired in May 2006 and is led by first-year coach Brad Underwood .
But the Wolverines see this late-season surge as something bigger than basketball. They believe fate may be on their side, too.
”Like I said, we were there for a reason. It happened for a reason,” Walton said. ”The way we responded, I was very proud of. It’s one of those memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
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