Madison, Wis. — Winning on the road has been a challenge for Michigan this season.
But winning at Wisconsin? Historically, that’s another degree of difficulty.
The Wolverines put up a fight and surged to an eight-point second-half lead but couldn’t overcome foul trouble and empty possessions down the stretch, falling short, 68-64, Tuesday night as No. 17 Wisconsin won its 17th straight at Kohl Center.
Zak Irvin had 20 points and six rebounds to lead Michigan (12-7, 2-4 Big Ten), which has lost the past five meetings between the teams and 13 of the last 14 at Wisconsin.
Derrick Walton Jr. scored 15 and Moritz Wagner 10 before both fouled out, and Duncan Robinson added 11 off the bench.
“We really competed right until the last second. Proud that that's a good step for us in this league,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, whose team fell to 0-5 in true road games.
“This is as difficult a place to win in as you can. Up six with six (minutes) to go, I've seen that movie before. They just did a great job down the stretch. We did not make some shots, they made some shots and that's the story.”
After Michigan’s offense went stagnant heading into halftime, it quickly found its footing in the second half.
The Wolverines used a 17-2 run over a six-minute stretch to erase a five-point deficit and claw to a 38-30 lead with 12:40 remaining.
Michigan coach talks about team's performance following Tuesday's 68-64 defeat.
Irvin kicked off the spurt with a layup, Walton added a 3-pointer and Wagner scored six straight points — two free throws and two layups — before Irvin did the rest with another layup and back-to-back mid-range jumpers.
During the run, Michigan held Wisconsin (15-3, 4-1) without a field goal for over seven minutes, with its only points coming on free throws.
“We didn't really care about whether we made a run or not,” Wagner said. “For us, what is important is to keep getting stops and we know that we're going to get going eventually, so we just told ourselves to keep going and eventually the shots will fall. We all trust each other and that's what we did. We tried to keep them off the glass and check them as good as we can.”
But within a blink of an eye, everything went awry.
After Wisconsin went in the bonus with 14:25 to play, Wagner drew a foul away from the basket to send D’Mitrik Trice to the free-throw line. Trice split the pair but Wisconsin came up with the offensive rebound, which led to a Trice 3-pointer and ignited a 13-5 flurry.
Walton hit two free throws and Robinson nailed a 3-pointer to try and keep Wisconsin at bay, but the Badgers scored five straight and tied it at 43 on a three-point play by Ethan Happ (11 points) with 8:16 left.
Michigan showed its resolve as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the wing to forge a 49-43 lead at the 6:29 mark.
Senior forward and sophomore big man talk about what hampered Michigan in Tuesday's 68-64 loss at Wisconsin.
It wasn’t enough. Wisconsin roared back behind Bronson Koenig (16 points), who scored 10 straight on two layups and two 3-pointers during a 15-0 blitz that put Michigan in a 58-49 hole with 3:46 to play.
Wagner snapped the spurt with a pair of free throws and Walton and Irvin combined to make three 3-pointers in the last two minutes, but it was too little too late as Wisconsin went 8-for-12 from the free-throw line in the final 1:13 to ice it.
“Being on the road, we knew they were going to make a run. They made a run in the second half and we made ours,” Irvin said. “We were going back and forth and … they made some shots when we weren't able to. They got a couple breaks, but we just got to keep fighting hard.”
After an uncharacteristic sloppy start, Irvin found a rhythm early and scored Michigan’s first six points on two layups and a deep jumper as the Wolverines trailed 8-6 with 15:48 left in first half.
Wisconsin scored five straight on a Happ layup and Nigel Hayes (13 points) three-point play to pull ahead, 19-13, at the 8:36 mark. Irvin countered with a 3-pointer late in the shot clock to silence the crowd and Abdur-Rahkman knocked down a deep ball to pull Michigan even at 19 with 7:11 remaining in the half.
From that point on, Michigan’s offense went cold as it missed its final six shots of the half, with its lone points a pair of Wagner free throws.
Yet Michigan's defense limited the damage as Wisconsin could only muster a 7-2 run down the stretch, putting the Wolverines in a 26-21 disadvantage at the break.
"I thought as a group, we played really well defensively, especially in the first half,” Irvin said. “We knew in order to put ourselves in position to win, we had to play well defensively and I thought we did that. Obviously they made some tough shots late. Bronson got it going and Nigel’s shot as well in those last six minutes. We just got to be able to grow from that."