'We rallied together': No. 3 Michigan picks up where it left off, roars past No. 21 Wisconsin

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Not even a long layoff could slow Michigan’s roll.

Coming off a two-week shutdown and playing their first game in 23 days, the No. 3 Wolverines returned to action at a tough venue against an opponent with payback on its mind and fell behind by 14 points.

None of that mattered as it took Michigan 20 minutes to pick up where it left off, overcome a rocky first half and storm back to take down No. 21 Wisconsin, 67-59, on Sunday at the Kohl Center.

BOX SCORE: No. 3 Michigan 67, No. 21 Wisconsin 59

“I’m blessed to be on a team like this,” said senior forward Isaiah Livers, who finished with 20 points and hit a key 3-pointer in the final minutes. “It's special to have guys who can go on a pause and then come back and go on the road to Wisconsin, who is playing great right now, and just be locked in and be together.

“They came out and punched us first in the mouth, especially in the first half. That second half we needed to get a counter and we rallied together. …Once we had each other's backs, we were back to normal and starting to play that Michigan basketball again. We didn't want to have any built-in excuses."

Wisconsin's Aleem Ford defends Michigan's Isaiah Livers during the first half Sunday in Madison, Wis.

Sophomore wing Franz Wagner scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and freshman center Hunter Dickinson had 11 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and numerous big plays in crunch time for Michigan (14-1, 9-1 Big Ten), which closed the game on a 23-8 run over the final 10-plus minutes and scored the last eight points.

After stretches of disjointed play led to a 12-point halftime hole, Michigan started to pick up the defensive intensity and get more comfortable on the offensive end in the second half. Wagner keyed a 13-3 run with a pair of 3-pointers and a runner to pull the Wolverines within 45-42 at the 14:12 mark.

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Wisconsin answered with back-to-back baskets to regain a seven-point advantage, but Michigan extended its defensive pressure and put the clamps on the Badgers over the final 10 minutes. The Wolverines strung together stop after stop and chipped away at the deficit until Dickinson's two free throws gave them a 54-53 lead with 5:04 remaining.

“In the first half we let them run their sets too easily,” Dickinson said. “I think we were letting them get real comfortable out there. I think in the second half we got up into them and took away all their vision.”

From there, Michigan made all the winning plays it needed down the stretch. The Wolverines trailed 57-56 when Dickinson corralled an offensive rebound and found Livers, who drained a 3-pointer with 2:48 left.

Then after Wisconsin tied it on two free throws from D’Mitrik Trice, Dickinson came through again with an offensive putback that gave Michigan the lead for good with 1:46 remaining. Wagner followed with a driving layup and the Wolverines secured the impressive comeback at the free-throw line.

Trice finished with 16 points, Aleem Ford scored 15 and Jonathan Davis added 11 for Wisconsin (15-7, 9-6), which was outscored 40-20 in the second half, shot 25% (7-for-28) after halftime and made just one basket over the final 7:45.  

“I thought the difference in the game, the back-breaking part, was the offensive rebounding,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "That was crucial in their run back at us and I thought they defensively turned some things up. I thought they got us spread out a little bit more and we didn't make good decisions at times when we were breaking people down or making plays.

"I didn't think we had as good of looks in the second half as we did in the first and that's a credit to Michigan. You've got to play a full 40 minutes against really good teams and we're not at the point where we're doing that."

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As expected, there was some rust around the edges for the Wolverines in the early stages, particularly on offense. They had a tough time finding their touch and getting anything easy as they missed 11 of their first 16 field-goal attempts and shot 34% in the first half.

Likewise, the defense had its struggles as Ford heated up and Wisconsin discovered its outside shooting stroke. Ford scored 11 points over the first nine minutes and the Badgers made four of their first five 3-point attempts to go up, 18-12, at the 10:54 mark.

Livers was aggressive from the start and drained back-to-back 3-pointers — one on a step-back and another transition — to pull Michigan even at 20. But outside of Livers, not much went right for the Wolverines as the Badgers closed the half on a 19-7 run.

The Wolverines missed eight consecutive shots over the final six minutes as the deficit grew to 14. By the time Livers snapped the field-goal drought with a tough pull-up jumper in the closing seconds, Michigan found itself trailing 39-27 at the break.

But the Wolverines didn't let the extended break stop them. Instead, they showed their resolve by recovering from the slow start and bouncing back to dominate the second half.

“There was a pause and we couldn't do anything about it,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “We had to control the controllables and that's us. I was impressed how our guys responded after a long layoff and not making excuses for themselves.

"Winning a game like this on the road does a lot and says a lot about the character of this group.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins