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Smith's elbow to face ignites fire under Wolverines in second-half comeback

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Wisconsin guard D’Mitirk Trice knew Michigan was going to come out of halftime with its hair on fire.

And the one play that perhaps provided the kindling and sparked the Wolverines’ second-half comeback in Saturday’s 67-59 win was when grad transfer guard Mike Smith took an elbow to the face from Wisconsin’s Brad Davison.

Michigan's Mike Smith shoots with Wisconsin's Nate Reuvers defending during the second half.

With Wisconsin leading by 10 and a little over 18 minutes remaining in the game, Smith went to wall up and defend a layup attempt by Davison. In the process of forcing the miss, Davison’s left elbow struck Smith in the jaw and sent him crashing down hard onto the court.

Smith immediately grabbed at his face and was down for several minutes as play was halted. While Michigan trainer Alex Wong attended to Smith, the Wolverines’ bench was assessed a technical foul for arguing the no-call on Davison, which stood after review.

“I’m sure it did,” coach Juwan Howard said when asked if the incident fired up the team. “I thought, from my angle, it looked like it was a non-basketball play, but the referees went and took a look at the monitor. I trust their decision on saying it was a basketball play, that's fine.

“But our guys looked at it and saw their brother looking pretty dazed and affected by the elbow. Mike told his teammates, 'Hey, I'm fine. I'm ready to go.' He told me because I was a little fired up, too.”

Senior forward Isaiah Livers said he didn’t have a good view of what happened and acknowledged Davison’s reputation for “unnecessary” antics. And while Howard argued that Davison intentionally threw his elbow out and wanted a flagrant foul called, Livers said he personally knows Davison and didn’t think he hit Smith on purpose.

Regardless, Livers appreciated seeing Howard going to bat for Smith.

"Honestly, I see a coach that really cares for his players,” Livers said. “If he sees one of his players, one of his sons out there being mistreated, we all know he's not afraid to speak up about it. That's what we love about him the most because we know he has our back. He trusts us and we trust him. Whatever he says, we rock with."

During the review, freshman center Hunter Dickinson said the talk in the team’s huddle centered around feeding off that play and using it as fuel to kick into another gear.

"I think we were trying to get that fire lit,” Dickinson said. “I think we tried to come out there in the beginning of the second half with that kind of fire. We came together after the foul and really said, 'Hey, this is our time. This is the run that we have to go on right now in order to come back and win this game.'”

On Michigan's next possession, Howard intentionally dialed up Smith and he converted a three-point play. From that point on, the Wolverines took over as they outscored the Badgers 35-16 over the final 18:16 to reel off their third straight win

“It was nice to see that they all rallied together,” Howard said. “It was a huge test of our culture. The No. 1 thing in our culture that we say and believe in is that we're all a family. As it goes to show you, family got tested and everyone banded together like brothers for their family."

Brown's milestone

Senior guard Chaundee Brown finished with one point in 18 minutes, but that was all he needed to reach 1,000 points for his college career.

He hit that mark when he split a pair of free throws with 25 seconds remaining as Michigan salted the game away at the line. Brown racked up 876 points as a three-year starter at Wake Forest and has 124 points as a sixth man for the Wolverines this season.

Howard said Brown was awarded the game ball and the postgame celebration was all about “giving love and respect” to the transfer.

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“When you Google a guy who's all in, Chaundee Brown's name and picture will pop up,” Howard said. “That's what today is all about — celebrating his success.

“We wouldn't be in the position that we are today if wasn't for Chaundee Brown.”

Slam dunks

Michigan is the first team to sweep a regular-season series from the Badgers since 2017-18, when Michigan State and Nebraska both did it. The Badgers had won their last eight rematch games with teams that beat them earlier in the same season.

… With Sunday’s Valentine’s Day win, Michigan improved to 3-0 when playing on holidays. The Wolverines won at Nebraska on Christmas Eve and at Maryland on New Year’s Eve.

… The Wolverines are 6-2 against the Badgers when both teams are ranked in the top 25.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins