To kick off Wednesday’s halftime entertainment, two fans were given the opportunity to make a half-court shot and, in doing so, win a free Delta Airlines flight to a U.S. city of their choosing. Within seconds, as one feeble attempt after another failed to reach the free-throw line, much less the rim, it became readily apparent that neither contestant was leaving the state of Michigan for free any time soon.

The duo’s only success was in impersonating the half it had just witnessed — a mistake-riddled period that saw the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 15-point lead whittled to a 37-30 deficit by halftime.

Unlike the fans, the Wolverines (4-2 Big Ten, 14-5 overall) figured it out in the end, denying the Golden Gophers (6-13, 0-7) their first Big Ten victory, 74-69. Michigan appeared lucky to be playing a Big Ten bottom dweller, though, as it struggled in all aspects of the game.

Though the Wolverines turned the ball over just six times, their mistakes came mainly in their shot attempts, as even their elite shooters had little success finding twine.

It took some shaking and baking from junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. to get the job done. Walton saved possessions late in the shot clock numerous times with twisting, scooping baskets at the rim, finishing with 22 points.

“I tried to steal a little bit from the Stephen Curry package,” Walton said.

But even Walton struggled from the field, shooting just 1-for-6 from 3-point range. As Minnesota kept the margin in single digits throughout the game, Walton’s 11-for-12 free-throw shooting made the difference. The point guard’s performance from the line brought Beilein a sigh of relief, having minced no words with sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman moments earlier before Abdur-Rahkman shot a one-and-one.

“I had tried to be positive with him and told him to make his damn foul shots in the huddle,” Beilein said. “So that really worked. He went out there and made them.”

Sharpshooting redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson shot just 3-for-12 from the field and missed an uncharacteristic seven times in 10 attempts from 3-point range. The Wolverines collectively shot 23-for-63, and the teams combined to shoot an anemic 15-for-53 from 3-point range.

“He got some really good looks,” Beilein said of Robinson’s seemingly flukish performance. “He practices so much. … He’s got to pick his pockets to practice. They tell me how many 3s he makes before the game — it’s like hundreds. I can assure you, and I was away recruiting, that on the day off (Monday), he found his way in there, with obviously no instruction from us, and had some manager come, and made a couple hundred.”    

As strange as Robinson’s performance was, the first half’s final sequence, which entailed junior walk-on Andrew Dakich attempting a jump shot with his foot on the 3-point line, was odd as well. The shot rimmed out and into the hands of sophomore forward Ricky Doyle, who missed a point-blank attempt at the buzzer.

Another peculiar moment saw redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson miss a second-half dunk only to find the ball in his hands seconds later in the same spot. The ensuing missed layup might as well have been the theme of the night for Michigan, which didn’t put Minnesota away until the game’s final minutes.

Walton’s 3-pointer with just over six minutes remaining in the game gave Michigan a nine-point lead that it clung to as it the clock dwindled toward all zeroes. The Wolverines showed an impressive ability to fight through Minnesota’s uncommon approach on guarding ball screens.

“They defended it differently than anybody’s defended all year long,” Beilein said, divulging only that the speed of Minnesota’s frontcourt players afforded the Golden Gophers extra flexibility in how they helped and switched. “We’ve just got to have a different strategy or be better at what we do.”

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