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Michigan finds stability, powers by Wisconsin

02/17/2017, 12:16am EST
By By KYLE ROWLAND BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Wolverines further bolster NCAA tournament resume

Michigan finds stability, powers by Wisconsin

Michigan guard Zak Irvin shoots a layup as Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ defends during the second half of Thursday’s game. Irvin finished with 18 points for the Wolverines. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANN ARBOR — On Wednesday afternoon, some 30 hours before tipoff of Thursday’s Wisconsin-Michigan basketball game, Wolverines coach John Beilein analyzed his team’s stop-and-go nature.

“Prosperity has not been a friend to us so far this year,” he said. “When we play well, we have lost a little of that edge we need.”

Not Thursday night at Crisler Center. With more than a minute remaining, Moe Wagner launched a deep 3-pointer that swished through the net, giving Michigan a nine-point lead, and ending its search for stability.

Michigan played the role of rude host, defeating No. 11 Wisconsin 64-58 and further bolstering an NCAA tournament resume that’s undergone an extreme makeover during the past week. The Wolverines, winners of three consecutive games, are above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time all season. The win against Wisconsin represented Michigan’s third victory over a top-50 opponent and the team’s first three-game conference win streak. 

“This team deserves to have a run like this,” said Wagner, who scored a team-high 21 points. “Everybody loves each other, everybody plays for each other. We practice so hard. We had a stretch where it didn’t always pay off. Now it’s paying off.

“It just means so much to us that we’re able to win games against really good teams.”

They did so by overcoming an eight-point, second-half deficit. The turning point came with Michigan trailing 42-38 and the shot clock nearing double zeros. Zak Irvin spun around at the top of the of the 3-point line and hoisted an out-of-control shot that banked in.

“A lot of pressure disappeared,” Irvin said. “I was so relieved after it went in. It really got me going in the second half. It’s a great feeling. Everyone told me to stay positive.”

Ethan Happ was called for an offensive foul on Wisconsin’s ensuing possession, his third foul and it sent him to the bench. The avalanche continued with a four-point play from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that gave Michigan its largest lead — four points — since the opening minutes. All told, Michigan used a 16-5 run to wrestle away control of the game. 

Wisconsin missed seven consecutive field-goal attempts.

“We got a good old-fashioned bank shot that changed Zak’s world and changed us,” Beilein said. “It was just what the doctor ordered.”

The Badgers were without their senior point guard Bronson Koenig, who had a strained calf. In the teams’ first meeting, Michigan (17-9, 7-6) was up by eight in the second half in Madison before Koenig battered the Wolverines from long range late in the game. His 10-point barrage resulted in a 68-64 Wisconsin victory.

Freshman D’Mitrik Trice made his first career start in place of Koenig, and Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3) promptly had three turnovers in their first nine possessions. Trice had nine points on 2-of-15 shooting with four assists and two turnovers.

“He got himself in some positions where he had to take some tough shots,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I thought he got himself in trouble at times.”

Michigan’s signature victory came on a night when Derrick Walton, Jr., was ordinary — five points on 1-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, eight assists, and two steals. Instead, Irvin, his senior counterpart, finally broke out of a four-game slump. He finished with 18 points.

“These past two weeks, I’ve been encouraged by teammates and coaches whenever I have a miss,” Irvin said. “To start off with an air ball tonight, I had my head down a little bit.”

Michigan shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc, but limited Wisconsin to 39 percent shooting and just three 3s. The defensive performance came three days after holding Indiana to 63 points and 21 percent from 3-point range.

Ethan Happ, the frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year, saw little resistance in the first half. He was limited to 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting in the teams’ first meeting. He surpassed 11 points Thursday with seven minutes left in the first half.

Happ, who’s the only player in the country leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals, finished with 22 points, six rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal. But he only had four points in the second half and fouled out.

Toledo native Nigel Hayes had six points, five rebounds, two blocks, and a steal. Vitto Brown, a Bowling Green native, finished with two rebounds.

In a streak-busting season, Michigan erased another dubious number. The Badgers had won their past five games against the Wolverines and 17 of 19. A week ago, Michigan also had dropped its previous five games to Michigan State and not won at Indiana since 2009.

All three spells have been remedied. None was more difficult to overturn than Wisconsin’s hex. Since undergoing a program renaissance in the late 1990s, the Badgers are perhaps the most consistent team in the country. They’re almost unbeatable at home and their win percentage on the road is as impressive.

“It’s a great win for us to be able to beat those guys,” Beilein said.

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ attempts to shoot over Michigan forward Moe Wagner during the first half of Thursday’s game. Wagner finished with 21 points for the Wolverines. ASSOCIATED PRESS


Michigan guard Zak Irvin celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer during the first half of Thursday’s game against Wisconsin. Irvin had 18 points for the Wolverines. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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