Michigan wins the Big Ten Tournament Championship, beating Purdue, 75-66
NEW YORK CITY, NY — Moritz Wagner stood with his arms in the air, facing the crowd behind the Michigan bench as the clock ran down.
John Beilein walked over smiling. The two embraced as the rest of the Wolverines mobbed them.
The buzzer sounded, and the team spilled onto the court, showered with streamers and the tune of “The Victors” coming from the pep band.
For the second season in a row, the Michigan men’s basketball team (13-5 Big Ten, 28-7 overall) is champion of the Big Ten Tournament, beating Purdue (15-3, 28-6), 75-66.
“It’s a surreal feeling, because you always envision it,” said senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “But when you’re actually out there playing, you forget about everything you envisioned. And once you hear that buzzer sound, it all starts to sink in.”
The fate of the game started to become clear midway through the second half.
The Wolverines opened up a 16-point lead the same way they’d had success throughout the Tournament. Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson was attacking the basket and finding open shooters, his teammates were knocking down shots and Michigan’s defense was stifling Purdue.
All the Wolverines needed was a dagger.
With just over six minutes to play they got one courtesy of an unexpected breakout player.
Waiting for a screen from backup center Jon Teske, Simpson held the ball at the top of the key.
Simpson drove right, slashing into the lane and drawing a double team. He dished it off to Teske. The sophomore rose up and slammed it over all-conference center Isaac Haas, drawing a foul in the process.
Madison Square Garden exploded as Teske, who finished with 14 points, hung on the rim for an extra beat before flexing and celebrating with his teammates. It was the electric play Michigan was looking for, and it came from perhaps the least animated player on the team.
“I don’t remember what was going through my head, just all of that emotion kind of spilled out,” Teske said. “It really gets the team going, I mean, being able to finish over a big-body guy like that, I really have no words to explain for it.”
The Wolverines started the game like they were still riding the high of their semifinal win over Michigan State.
Michigan played the first half about as well as it could have, shooting 53 percent from the field without turning the ball over once. The Wolverines did miss some open threes that would have extended their lead, but they still held on to a 38-33 advantage heading into the locker room.
Then they went on their run.
With just over 12 minutes left in the game, and Michigan threatening to pull away for good, fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson stood on the baseline. He was preparing to inbound the ball with three seconds left on the shot clock and his team maintaining an 11-point lead.
He tossed it in to Wagner, who took one step toward the corner, spun around and heaved a fall-away 3-pointer. It found nothing but the bottom of the net.
“To be honest with you I didn't know how much time was on the clock,” Wagner said. “I just saw Duncan running for the hand-off. It must have been a little time on the clock, so I took my time and shot it and it went in.”
From there, Michigan hit its shots, it played its defense, it hit enough free throws — barely — to win and it celebrated under the rest of the confetti, which came out on time as the clock ran out.
It was announced after the game that Wagner, who scored 17 points in 17 minutes, was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
On stage with his team at the trophy celebration, he said he couldn’t stop smiling. It makes sense, because Wagner’s come a long way to get to this point, both literally and figuratively.
But Beilein’s presence has made it easier on him. He’s become a player worthy of high praise under Beilein, and when they hugged before the clock hit zeroes, he told Beilein how grateful he was.
“It’s amazing, because he’s on me every day, you know?” Wagner said after the game. “And that’s what he’s supposed to do. He has so much belief in me and all of us as a player. He never gives up on anybody, and I very much appreciate that. If I have a bad day, he comes up to me, and it’s just something I really appreciate, and I let him know that.”
There will be more basketball for the Wolverines, and they’ll find out when and where next Sunday.
But there’s a celebration to be had first. There’s another trophy to hoist. For the second season in a row, Michigan is the class of the Big Ten.