Michigan coach John Beilein conceded his team “melted” a little bit in the second half on Sunday vs. Wisconsin.
But thanks to the Wolverines’ offensive avalanche in the first half, it didn’t much matter.
Michigan’s hot shooting opened up a 22-point lead at the break, and the Wolverines never let the Badgers closer than seven points in the second half en route to an 83-72 victory.
“Our defense in the first half was very, very good," Beilein said. "Second half, not as good. It’s tough to play with that kind of lead. We did not execute down the stretch and melted a little bit. These guys would not go away.”
The young Badgers didn’t fold after falling behind by as many as 25 points, but neither did the Wolverines when Wisconsin mounted a 14-2 run in the second half to pull within 11 with 8:52 to go, waking up an announced crowd of 17,287 at the Kohl Center.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s drive halted a 10-0 Badgers spurt, and Michigan (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten) immediately answered each of Wisconsin’s next four buckets to prevent the momentum from swinging back the Badgers’ way.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” said Abdur-Rahkman, one of four Wolverines in double figures with 15 points. “We just had to stay poised and stay composed.”
Michigan stayed in front by double digits until Aleem Ford’s 3-pointer with 2:36 to go made it 71-63. But the Wolverines went 12-for-15 from the free throw line down the stretch to keep the Badgers at bay.
Moritz Wagner had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead Michigan, and also helped to fluster Wisconsin star Ethan Happ in the first half. The Badgers' forward, the only returning starter from a Sweet 16 team, was 5-for-13 from the field with no rebounds at the break.
Michigan outrebounded Wisconsin 17-9 in the first half. The Wolverines shot 65.4 percent (17-of-26) to the Badgers’ 36 percent (9-of-25).
“We had the ball point blank several times, and we go 5-for-15 in the paint in the first half,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “When you put that much pressure back on your defense and you have a couple mistakes and they get some confidence going, that has a snowball effect.”
Happ finished with a season-high 29 points to lead the Badgers (11-16, 4-10), who with the loss are now guaranteed their first losing Big Ten season since going 3-13 in 1997-98.
It was the second win for Michigan in Madison since 2000, and gave Wolverines coach John Beilein his eighth 20-win campaign in 11 seasons in Ann Arbor.
Michigan made seven of its first nine 3-pointers, finishing 8-for-14 for the half. The Wolverines cooled off after the break, but by then the damage was done.
The Wolverines shot 28-for-50 overall, their first game above 50 percent since a 92-88 loss to Purdue on Jan. 25 and only their second in their past 10 contests. Michigan was coming off a 38.6 percent shooting effort in a 61-52 loss to Northwestern on Tuesday.
“We knew that it would correct itself, that we have really good shooters on the team,” Beilein said. “We’ve got really good passers, and it’s going to correct itself.”
Michigan scored the game’s first seven points, and after a Brad Davison jumper put Wisconsin on the board, the Wolverines reeled off an 8-0 run to make it 15-2.
A pair of Duncan Robinson 3-pointers sandwiched around a Wagner trey made it 33-15 Michigan, forcing a Wisconsin timeout. The Wolverines had hit 12-for-16 shots at that point, including seven from long range.
Eight players scored in the first half for Michigan, led by Robinson’s 14 points. The senior wing was 5-for-6 from the floor and 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half, with the only miss being a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Robinson added a bucket in the second half to finish with 16 points. He had been 2-for-13 from beyond the arc in his past three games.
“I encouraged him to shoot the ball, shoot the ball, shoot the ball, and he did,” Beilein said. “He should’ve shot some more in the second half.”
The Badgers came into the game leading the Big Ten in rebounding defense, holding opponents to an average of 30.1 boards per game. Wisconsin limited Michigan to 33, but the Wolverines were much stingier on the glass, allowing 23 rebounds for the Badgers.
“One of those things that plays into it is shooting 36 percent in the first half," Gard said. "Make more shots, there’s less rebounds for them to get. And not let them shoot 65 percent. If they miss more, there’s chances for you to rebound. It’s as simple as that.”