MADISON — Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein’s sideline reactions told the story of the Wolverines’ game on Sunday against Wisconsin.
After Mark Donnal was whistled for a lane violation late in the first half to give Wisconsin another shot at a missed free throw, the Kohl Center video board focused in on a look of frustration on Beilein’s face that would rival even that of McKayla Maroney.
When a pass intended for Donnal midway through the second half ended up out of bounds, Beilein chuckled to himself — appearing almost amused at the mistake — and grabbed Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer’s shoulders for solace on the bench.
Later in the half, after junior guard Zak Irvin missed a layup, Beilein slapped the court.
The frustration was the product of turnovers, missed shots and mental lapses that ultimately landed Michigan (10-7 Big Ten, 20-10) on the wrong end of 68-57 game in Madison.
In Michigan’s losses this season, the Wolverines have been killed by their inability to stop opponents’ runs before they get out of hand. Sunday, Wisconsin became the latest opponent to perpetrate a run Michigan could not come back from, using an 8-0 spurt midway through the second half to turn a one-point deficit into seven-point lead en route to victory.
“We had easy looks, that wasn’t the problem,” Walton said. “We just didn’t capitalize, and we just gave them way too many second opportunities and that’s what they’re good at.”
The Wolverines and the Badgers traded blows throughout the game, which featured 13 lead changes. Riding a 54-percent shooting performance from the field, Michigan took a 30-29 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, though, just like in past losses, the wheels fell off long enough for the Badgers (11-5, 19-10) to grab the lead and some breathing room.
After junior forward Ricky Doyle slammed home an alley-oop dunk to put Michigan up one point with 13:56 remaining, Wisconsin bounced back with two points of its own on a jumper from forward Nigel Hayes, giving the Badgers back the lead. Next, after junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. missed 3-pointer, Wisconsin picked up another two points on a lay up from guard Zak Schowalter. One minute later, after a Walton turnover, it was forward Ethan Happ with a layup, and then another missed 3 from Walton led to Hayes’ layup on the other side.
Two and a half minutes and eight points was all the Badgers needed to take back the lead and take over the game.
Wisconsin shot 56 percent in the second half and used 12 points from Bronson Koenig to blow the game open. Koenig finished with a game-high 19 points including nailing three 3s.
Meanwhile, Michigan couldn’t hit from the field in the second half and made costly mistakes down the stretch in an effort to cut the lead and make a comeback. After a steal, Walton missed a wide open layup attempt that would have cut that Badgers’ lead to six points. Instead he laid it up too softly, leaving it on the front of the rim. Just over a minute later, Walton picked up another steal. This time he fed to Irvin, but Irvin couldn’t convert on a layup attempt.
“You look at some of the best players, they’re going to miss layups,” Walton said. “But the small errors at this point in the season, those plays really hurt us. Down the stretch there were probably four to six points that hurt us, ended up being like a six-point swing. We don’t really point the finger in this program but guys just got to own up to their mistakes and move forward.”
The Wolverines, who have been reliant on 3-point shooting all season, were cold from deep on Sunday, going 5-for-13 behind the arc.
“Shots haven’t really been falling for us,” Irvin said. “We’re trying not to settle as much as we have in the past, that causes a lot of bad things for us. So we try to get to the basket, but obviously we were struggling to make layups and tough 2s, which they force you to do.”
Michigan and Wisconsin both entered Sunday’s game on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, sitting at 10 conference wins apiece. An 11th win wouldn’t have guaranteed a tournament berth for the Wolverines, but it would have given them a strong case — no Big Ten team has ever missed the tournament with 11 conference wins. With the loss, Michigan has just one more chance to get an 11th win when it hosts Iowa next Saturday in its regular-season finale.