By Jake Lourim, Managing Sports Editor
Published January 24, 2015
On the first possession of the game Saturday, the Michigan men’s basketball team forced the shot clock all the way down, hoping No. 6 Wisconsin would force up a tough shot. Instead, point guard Bronson Koenig beat sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. to the rim for an easy layup at the buzzer.
That theme persisted for most of the evening: No matter what the Wolverines tried, it seemed they could never make Wisconsin uncomfortable for long enough to seize control.
Two hours later, the Badgers felt uncomfortable — headed to overtime, on the road, on a Saturday night, in front of a sellout crowd — and it was none other than Walton who did it.
With 1.3 seconds left, after Michigan (5-3 Big Ten, 12-8 overall) had fought back from three different significant deficits, Walton drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game and send it to overtime.
But when play resumed, Wisconsin (6-1, 18-2) quickly gave the Wolverines had another deficit to overcome. And this one was too much.
“I don’t think we’re at a stage where, unless we’re on fire and hitting every shot, … that we can expect to be ahead a lot in games,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We’re going to have to come from behind and just stay solid.”
Frank Kaminsky opened the extra possession with a three-point play after a blocking foul on Michigan freshman forward Ricky Doyle, and Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser added a 3-pointer on the next possession. Kaminsky’s basket put the Badgers ahead for good, and he finished with 22 points and nine rebounds.
“Let’s face it: He’s one of the best players in the country,” Ryan said. “I don’t say that very often. … Frank means a lot to this team.”
The Wolverines fought back to within four with two minutes left, but gave up an offensive rebound before getting the ball back on a charge with under a minute to go.
Then, Michigan looked to Walton again, but the Badgers denied him and iced the game at the line to hold on for a 69-64 victory at Crisler Center.
“We knew going into this game that it was going to be a dogfight, that it wasn’t going to be easy,” said sophomore forward Zak Irvin. “We wanted to go get this one, especially in front of the great atmosphere we had today. We thought we executed the game plan really well when we took them to overtime.”
Down by four with under two minutes left, Walton and Irvin each missed 3-pointers, extending the team’s late scoring drought to two minutes. Gasser also missed with a minute to go, and Michigan again had a chance to draw within one possession.
The Wolverines came up empty as Walton missed a layup, but after Gasser missed the front end of a one-and-one, the sophomore redeemed himself by finishing at the rim after knocking over Gasser.
Koenig split a pair of free throws with 20.4 seconds on the clock, giving Michigan another chance down three. Walton calmly sank two foul shots to draw the Wolverines within one and set up his late triple.
For a time, it looked as though a comeback would be unlikely. Four minutes into the second half, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker had punctuated an 11-0 run with a dunk from halfway to the free-throw line, and the upset was all but off the table. Back on its heels, facing an 11-point deficit, Michigan clawed back again.
But Wisconsin called timeout and calmed down quickly, stringing together a Dekker jumper, a stop and an open corner 3-pointer by Gasser to go up by five.
That deficit still stood with five minutes left, when Irvin dialed up another 3-pointer to trim it to two. In the last five minutes, it was just a matter of who would flinch first.
In the first few minutes, it appeared the answer would be Michigan. With ESPN’s College GameDay in town, 3,000 students packed Crisler Center up to the rafters before the game, ready to erupt. They didn’t get the chance initially, as the Wolverines fell behind 9-2 before tying the game at 21.
After Donnal hit a fadeaway jumper from the baseline to give Michigan what would be its last lead of the game, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes stepped in. He converted a three-point play on the ensuing possession, and Dekker followed with a thunderous dunk, plus a foul. Finally, Hayes drained a 3-pointer with one second left in the half, and for all of the Wolverines’ effort, they trailed by seven. It wouldn’t be the last time, but the final deficit stuck, erasing progress from three thrilling comebacks.
“We don’t believe in moral victories,” Irvin said. “This one definitely hurts. We just gotta go back to the drawing board and get ready for Nebraska on Tuesday.”