Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Sunday's 83-72 at the Kohl Center. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Madison, Wis. — There are places that have been unkind to Michigan.
And then there’s the Kohl Center, where leaving with a loss has been the norm for quite some time.
The Wolverines bucked the trend and hung on to beat Wisconsin, 83-72, Sunday to leave Madison with just their second win since 2000.
Moritz Wagner recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 20 Michigan (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten), which shot a blistering 65.4 percent (17-for-26) in a dominant first half and 56 percent (28-for-50) for the game.
Duncan Robinson, who got the start in place of injured freshman forward Isaiah Livers (ankle), added 16 points and shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 15 and went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 2:07 to help seal it.
“These three guys were absolutely terrific,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Wagner, Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman. “They're leading and they’re really the only experience that we have on the team. It helped us get the win.
“Our defense in the first half was very, very good. Second half was not as good. It's tough to play with that type of lead, but I'm proud. We've been in this building before when we got up and they made a run. We did not execute down the stretch and melted a little bit. These guys would not go away.”
After coasting into halftime with a 22-point cushion, Michigan continued to pour it on with a 7-0 run — highlighted by a Wagner corner 3-pointer that beat the shot clock — to take its largest lead of the game, 53-28, with 14:50 remaining in the second half.
However, things never come easy for Michigan at the Kohl Center, and Sunday was no different. The Badgers used a 12-0 run to cut the deficit to 58-47 with 8:52 remaining and reawaken the quiet crowd.
Abdur-Rahkman snapped the flurry and a nearly four-minute scoring drought with a driving layup at the 8:35 mark. It triggered a back-and-forth between the teams as Wisconsin (11-6, 4-10) pulled within 11 six more times — the last on an Ethan Happ layup at the 3:26 mark — only to have Michigan counter with its own answer.
Senior guard talks about responding from a deflating loss at Northwestern earlier in the week with an 83-72 win at Wisconsin on Sunday. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
But after Zavier Simpson missed the front end of a one-and-one twice, Wisconsin’s Aleem Ford nailed a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to single digits, 71-63, with 2:37 left and keep the Badgers’ comeback hopes alive.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “They're a good team and they're playing at home, but we just had to stay poised, stay composed and stick to our game plan."
Wisconsin climbed within 79-72 with 39 seconds remaining following back-to-back Michigan fouls on 3-point attempts before the Wolverines eventually put the game away at the line. Abdur-Rahkman, Ibi Watson and Jordan Poole made two free throws apiece as Michigan finished 18-for-24 from the free-throw line to secure the rare road win.
“I think we got three guys (Wagner, Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman) that made pretty big plays down the stretch,” Beilein said. “They started fouling us early, as well, and that has not been a strength with us at times. But these guys, they got the job done, especially Muhammad.”
The second half was a far cry from the opening stanza for Michigan, which came out clicking on both ends of the floor and jumped out to a 15-2 lead with 14:27 left.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, had one made basket — a tough step-back by Brad Davison at the 16:18 mark — and three turnovers over the first five minutes.
Happ, who scored half of Wisconsin’s first-half points, had seven straight points for the Badgers to cut it to 11 before Michigan began to pull away with a 13-3 run that made it 35-15 at the 6:32 mark. Robinson keyed the spurt with two 3-pointers and capped Michigan’s hot start as the Wolverines made 13 of their first 17 shots, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range.
Junior center talks about the boost Duncan Robinson gave during Michigan's dominant first half in Sunday's 83-72 win. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
“I think it all started with our defense. When we can get out in transition and can get easy baskets, everything is a lot easier for us,” Wagner said. “Duncan is a great shooter and we know that. I'm very happy he knocked those down and I think we all shot really well. The basket is a lot easier if we make shots.”
Michigan closed out one of its best first halves in some time with a 7-0 run — highlighted by Robinson’s fourth 3-pointer of the half — and held Wisconsin scoreless over the final 4:19 to take a commanding 44-22 lead into halftime.
Happ finished with a season-high 29 points on 12-for-23 shooting, Brevin Pritzl scored 13 and Davison 10 for Wisconsin, which shot 60 percent (18-for-30) to rally back in the second half after being held to 36 percent (9-for-25) in the first half.
“It was some things defensively but also we didn't help ourselves offensively in the first 10 minutes,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “That put us in such a deep hole that's it hard to come back against a team that's not going to turn the ball over, is going to make foul shots and is going to be pretty efficient offensively. That's a steep hill to climb.”