MADISON — On the floor of the Kohl Center, there was madness. Players and fans and coaches rushed the court, a mass that exuded exuberance.
In the Michigan locker room, there was quiet.
After every other game this season, the No. 2 Wolverines (17-1 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) had sung the fight song. On Saturday, for the first time, they didn’t. That’s a festivity reserved for wins, and Michigan had fallen, finally, to Wisconsin (12-6, 4-3), 64-54. There were turnovers and missed baskets and an all-around ugly offensive performance and finally, the Wolverines, undefeated no more.
“We just weren’t able to knock down shots,” said junior center Jon Teske. “The mistakes, we forced. … We had some dumb turnovers. That’s not us.”
The turning point came with Michigan up one six minutes into the second half. Teske fought for a board and attempted a half-court pass to sophomore guard Jordan Poole, but Poole couldn’t corral it and Badger forward Ethan Happ grabbed the ball just before it went out of bounds, then took it down the court for a layup. Suddenly, Wisconsin was up one and it only cascaded from there.
Once Wisconsin took the lead, Happ took over, icing the game almost single-handedly. Alley-oop. Another dunk. Hook shot. Rebound. A couple free throws. The Wolverines, ultimately, had no answers as the Badgers slowly built their lead.
“We always feed off (Happ’s) energy,” said Wisconsin guard Brad Davison. “ … It’s infectious to the rest of the team.”
The first half was relatively inconspicuous for both teams. For long stretches, sophomore guard Jordan Poole was the only Michigan player who could find the basket — and during the final stretch of the game, he sat on the bench with four fouls. At one point, neither team scored for 2:54 before Poole hit a jumper that capped off an odd 8-0 run for the Wolverines.
Then things started getting ugly for Michigan. Wisconsin took a timeout after a charge on sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and promptly went on a 7-0 run spurred by Happ and forward Aleem Ford to put the Badgers up four.
At halftime, the Wolverines’ two-point lead seemed almost undeserved, given the number of missed shots, bad possessions and turnovers, not to mention a 1-for-7 mark from 3-point range. And in the second half, it caught up to them.
“When you’re playing a really good team, anybody has (16) turnovers against a team that doesn’t turn it over is not gonna win any games,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Their defense is just so good in contain.”
And though Michigan had some good individual performances — junior guard Zavier Simpson, Poole and Teske all finished with double digit points — it was all ultimately too much. The crowd and the turnovers and too many trips down the court with nothing to show for it left the Wolverines gasping for air.
With just a minute left, freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis — who scored zero points for the first time all season — was called for an intentional foul off the ball, sending Happ to the line, where he hit 1-of-2. On the ensuing possession, Happ made a layup, then a defensive rebound that led to a dunk.
Another turnover and another foul on the Wolverines sent Davison to the charity stripe with four seconds left. He made both free throws to provide the final dagger.
After the game Michigan had, it was all too appropriate.