Note: Portions of this blog post are written in Billrafterese. If at any point you think I’m writing about actual vegetables, please consult your nearest Urban Dictionary.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Sweet 16 matchup between Kansas and Michigan began with a shot to the onions. It continued past the end of regulation because of a shot that proved the existence of enormous onions.
The festivities got off to a wince-inducing start when Kansas guard Elijah Johnson popped Michigan center Mitch McGary in the onions early in the first half. Officials ruled the punch a Flagrant 1, giving McGary two free throws but leaving onion-puncher Johnson in the game. Karma being karma, Johnson and McGary met again much later. As Johnson tried to guard Burke with the clock ticking and Kansas up three, McGary wiped out his erstwhile assailant with a screen. Burke rose and buried a three-pointer with 4.2 seconds remaining to force overtime.
The Wolverines, who had been dominated in the paint all night, showed tremendous onions in overtime. Burke and McGary combined for nine points in the extra period and when Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe’s shot at the buzzer clanked off the backboard and rim, Michigan tossed the top-seeded Jayhawks out of the tourney with a 87-85 win.
At halftime, the zero in the “points” category on Burke’s boxscore line looked like a pearl onion. But Burke’s 23 points in the second half and overtime looked like a bushel of Vidalia onions. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks wasted a 20-point Ben McLemore performance with an epic collapse that saw them blow a 10-point lead in the final 2:52 of regulation.
When Kansas held that double-digit lead, it looked hopeless for the Wolverines. For most of the night, it appeared they had left their collective onions back in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Presumably to be used on sandwiches at Zingerman’s.) The Jayhawks scored 60 points in the paint – forcing the Wolverines to give them easy shots most of the night. The shot chart for Kansas looked incomplete because of a thick layer of dots directly under the basket. At one point in the second half, a highlight reel for Jayhawks guard Travis Releford appeared on the massive scoreboard. It looked as if someone had filmed Releford in the pregame layup line.
McGary didn’t offer much resistance on the defensive end early, but the freshman did keep the Wolverines in the game in the first half with 11 points as Burke worked out his shooting issues. As the game went on, McGary’s onions appeared to recover from Johnson’s shot. After getting worked by Kansas center Jeff Withey early, McGary owned the paint in the second half -- finishing with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
It took onions for Wolverines coach John Beilein to insert a freshman center into the starting lineup immediately prior to the NCAA tournament. And it took massive onions for Beilein to order his team not to foul with the Wolverines down five with a minute remaining in regulation. Michigan forced a McLemore miss -- the rebound was grabbed by Jordan Morgan, who lost his starting job to McGary and didn’t play a minute in the round of 32 against VCU -- and Glenn Robinson III put back a Tim Hardaway Jr. miss to cut the deficit to three. Johnson made a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to five, but Burke responded with a layup. On the ensuing Kansas possession, Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one. Moments later, he slammed into McGary. Burke aimed, fired and showed off the biggest set of onions the tournament has seen so far.