Run over: No. 2 Michigan loses for first time this season
Madison, Wis. — Spotty 3-point shooting. Season-high tying 16 turnovers. Five combined points from leading scorers redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis.
Throw in a rowdy crowd and a venue where Michigan has historically struggled, it’s not a recipe for success.
It all proved to be too much for No. 2 Michigan to overcome as Wisconsin pulled off the upset and handed the Wolverines their first loss of the season, 64-54, Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Junior center Jon Teske had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks for Michigan (17-1, 6-1 Big Ten), which suffered its first regular-season defeat since Feb. 6, 2018 and just its second loss in 347 days.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole added 14 points and junior guard Zavier Simpson had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolverines, who shot 5-for-11 on free throws, 5-for-18 on 3s and 22-for-54 from the field to finish with a season-low 54 points.
"One of the big things is we haven't had the opportunity to grow from losses," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We needed that growth today because we weren't as good as we'd like to be in either half, really, when you're playing a really good team.
"Anybody that has (16) turnovers against a team that doesn't turn it over is not going to win any games. Their defense is just so good at containing. Hats off to Wisconsin, and watch us grow from it. That's our only plan."
After an ugly back-and-forth struggle through the opening 20 minutes, the second half wasn’t any prettier.
Michigan and Wisconsin continually traded blow after blow, refusing to back down and let the other team get any sort of breathing room.
When the Wolverines took their largest lead, 34-29, with 17:06 to play following five straight points from Teske — two free throws and a 3-pointer — they couldn’t keep the cushion.
The Badgers clawed back with a 9-1 spurt that started during a stretch where the Wolverines turned the ball over three times on four possessions. Do-it-all big man Ethan Happ capped the run with a basket off an inbounds play to put Wisconsin up, 50-44, and Michigan on the ropes with 5:49 to play.
Matthews and Simpson were able to briefly quell Wisconsin’s momentum and quiet the crowd, but Happ answered both times with a dunk and layup to keep it a six-point game.
Down the stretch, Michigan primarily hoisted 3-pointers and missed six of its final eight shots in the final 3:15. Despite that, Michigan still gave itself a chance as Teske and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers each hit a 3 to pull Michigan within three on two separate occasions, the last coming with 59 seconds remaining.
In the final minute, though, everything unraveled. Brazdeikis was whistled for an intentional foul on Happ, who split two free throws and scored off his own miss on the ensuing possession to put Wisconsin up 60-54 with 15 seconds left.
The Wolverines came up empty on their final two possessions and the Badgers closed the door with a fast-break dunk and two more free throws, ending the game with a 7-0 run in the final 51 seconds to ruin Michigan's streak of perfection.
"I mean, we just weren't hitting shots. They came out and they executed down the stretch and we didn't," Teske said. "Those last four, five minutes they executed down the stretch and we didn't. That was kind of the ballgame right there."
Happ finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Wisconsin (12-6, 4-3), which snapped a three-game slide in the series and improved to 14-3 all-time against Michigan at the Kohl Center.
It's also the second time in seven seasons a top-five ranked Michigan team was toppled by an unranked Wisconsin team at the Kohl Center.
"I'm happy for our guys the way they battled, the way they competed to get the result they've been trying to get for the last couple weeks against a terrific team," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "It wasn't always pretty, it wasn't exactly how we planned all the time, but that's life and they responded. That's what I'm most proud of — how they kept responding, kept coming back, kept battling and found a way."
The first half was a grind-it-out affair that’s typical of most Big Ten contests, with seven lead changes and neither team getting more than five points of separation.
The Wolverines faced a less-than-ideal scenario when Teske picked up a foul on Happ less than four minutes into the game and redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis, who was the first big off the bench, picked up one 10 seconds after checking in.
Still, Michigan was able to get through stretch with Teske on the bench thanks to some solid minutes from Davis. During one stretch, Davis stopped Happ on one end and then grabbed a one-handed offensive rebound for a putback. Davis then threw down a dunk on the next possession to give Michigan an 11-9 lead with 12:37 left in the first half.
From there, Michigan and Wisconsin each traded flurries to regain the lead with Poole and Happ serving as the catalysts before the Wolverines closed out the half on a 6-0 run for a 27-25 edge at the break that it couldn't hang onto.
"We always sing the fight song after every win. It's the first time these guys had never sang the fight song (this season)," Beilein said. "I think it's been 49 weeks since we lost a game that wasn't called the national championship game. That's pretty good. It was February 6th. I remember our losses. I don't remember wins. I remember that loss at Northwestern. I think it was February 6th. And now it's January 19th.
"That's a hell of a run and now it doesn't mean anything. Now we've got to go back and we've got to find a way to beat Minnesota on Tuesday."