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National Columnist

Two heroes for Michigan in Sweet 16: Trey Burke and Elijah Johnson

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Trey Burke deserves this moment, this celebration, this applause. Look, he didn't beat Kansas by himself. Fourth-seeded Michigan got 25 points and 14 rebounds from freshman center Mitch McGary. Glenn Robinson III scored 13 points. Nik Stauskas added 11, Tim Hardaway Jr. 10.

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But Burke did this. After a poor start to the game, a poor start that carried well into the second half, Burke took over. McGary and Co. had handled the heaviest lifting to that point, but with the season slipping away from the first Michigan team to reach the Sweet 16 in 19 years, Burke carried the Wolverines the rest of the way. He scored eight points in the final 72 seconds as Michigan wiped out an eight-point deficit to force overtime.

Burke scored the first five points of overtime, broke down the Kansas defense repeatedly with drives when he wasn't scoring, and Michigan pulled off one of the more outlandish comebacks in recent NCAA tournament history, beating the top-seeded Jayhawks 87-85.

Trey Burke did that.

But so did Elijah Johnson of Kansas.

And Elijah Johnson deserves this moment, this scrutiny, this catcall. Look, I'm not big on singling out a college kid and pinning a loss, especially a loss as devastating as this one, on one guy. But Johnson singled himself out early in the game, slapped a bull's-eye onto his back by slapping McGary between the legs as he went by with 18:15 left in the first half.

McGary crumpled in pain, and officials studied the replay to see what the hell had happened. Then they saw it. Johnson walking past, his arms swinging as arms do, but then his arm swinging more than an arm does -- and what do you know? It swung directly into McGary's body, his hand landing a shot into McGary's groin. Not accidental, not at all.

"The film doesn't lie," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "That's not how we play. And that was not smart at all."

Referees called it a Flagrant 1, meaning two free throws for McGary and then a possession for Michigan. A Flagrant 2 would have resulted in Johnson's ejection. At the time, by avoiding that scenario, it looked like Kansas caught a break.

Turns out, Michigan did.

Because Elijah Johnson lost this game for Kansas. He did this.

Kansas had control of this game in a way that teams almost never relinquish. The Jayhawks led 68-54 on a 3-pointer by Johnson, of all people, with 6:51 left. It was still 70-60 with less than four minutes to play when Elijah Johnson began to unravel.

Johnson threw the ball away. He threw another ball away. He was hounded into a 10-second violation, unable to advance the ball past midcourt against the defense of -- you know who it was -- Trey Burke. That was three turnovers in 87 seconds, all by Elijah Johnson.

At the other end, Burke was going off. He was breaking down the Kansas defense to set up McGary for a layup to get Michigan within 72-66. He was hitting a 3-pointer with 1:12 left to make it 74-69. He was attacking the rim to cut the Kansas lead to 76-73 with 14 seconds left.

Now it was problematic for Michigan. Now the Wolverines needed help. And what do you know? Elijah Johnson to the rescue. Michigan fouled Johnson with 12.6 seconds left and needed him to miss the front end of the one-and-one. Which is what he did.

That gave the ball one more time to Burke, and you know what he did. He buried a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left to force overtime. The Michigan bench exploded and waited for Burke to come celebrate. Burke stayed on the court, so the bench came to him, a long -- long -- way from the rim.

"Really didn't matter how far the shot was," Burke said of his NBA-length, and then some, 3-pointer. "The season flashed before our eyes."

Burke kept doing his thing in the extra session -- and Johnson kept doing his. Burke hit a long 3-pointer to open the scoring, then found himself matched with 6-foot-5 Kansas freshman Ben McLemore and waved his teammates away. McLemore may well be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, but Burke wanted a piece of him. He dribbled into McLemore, stepped back and hit a 19-footer.

Michigan seemingly had control of the game after a Kansas turnover by -- you know who it was -- Elijah Johnson with 53 seconds left. That led to two free throws by Michigan's Robinson and an 87-82 lead. But Johnson hit a 3-pointer to make it close, and after Burke and McGary finally cooled off, Burke missing a drive and McGary missing the put-back, Kansas had the ball with 9.4 seconds left, trailing 87-85.

Enter Elijah.

He drove the right side of the lane and had a shot at the rim, but decided it would be better to kick the ball out to Naadir Tharpe 25 feet from the basket. Tharpe, a 35-percent shooter this season, missed at the buzzer.

"For whatever reason," Self said of Elijah Johnson's final poor decision of a game full of them, "he veered behind the backboard and really didn't give himself a shot."

Michigan won. Trey Burke finished with 23 points, 10 assists against four turnovers, and the best individual six-minute stretch of basketball we've seen thus far in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Kansas lost. Elijah Johnson finished with 13 points, no assists against five turnovers, and a reputation that will follow him -- the guy who punched the Michigan player in the testicles.

Sometimes you get what you deserve.

 
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