MADISON — The game was destined to be played at a slow pace, not decided by a 40-foot desperation heave. It was Wisconsin after all, the team known for using the shot clock more than any other in the Big Ten, and it was the Kohl Center, where the referees are known for letting teams play. Plus, the Michigan basketball team has struggled to come out with energy in its road contests, and the 11 a.m. central time start wouldn’t help.
Even with sophomore point guard Trey Burke willing No. 3 Michigan to push the ball, freshman forward Mitch McGary shooting rarely seen transition jumpers, and rarely-used redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt registering a career high in minutes, the Wolverines couldn’t pull it out. It took a desperation 40-foot shot from Wisconsin, but Michigan fell, 65-62, on the road, in a game that would’ve likely put it back as the No. 1 overall team in the country.
Wisconsin (8-3 Big Ten, 17-7 overall) has an offensive style that relies on the predictable, but a crazy, unpredictable last minute of the game was needed to keep the Wolverines (8-3, 21-3) from getting back to No. 1.
With just over a minute remaining in the game, Burke made a pull-up jumper around the free-throw line to put the Wolverines up three. On the other end, the sophomore tried to take a change to seal the game, but was called for a blocking foul on a monster dunk from Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren. It looked like a charge should have been called on Berggren, but regardless, he made the free throw to finish the three-point play and tie the game.
“It was a great dunk,” Burke said. “I thought I was outside the charge area, but sometimes you don’t get those calls. I think that gave them a lot of momentum.”
Michigan got the last possession, and it looked like it would again be Burke to try the game-winner, as it has been most times this season.
But he passed it off to forward Tim Hardaway Jr., who was heavily guarded and couldn’t get a clean look. The junior was still able to sink a deep 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left to seemingly win the game for Michigan, even though Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said after the game that Hardaway was probably fouled on the play.
The Badgers immediately called timeout, and got the ball back with just enough time to force overtime. Michigan coach John Beilein knew his team had a foul to give, but Wisconsin guard Ben Brust got a perfect inbound pass from forward Mike Bruesewitz and was able to turn the corner before Michigan forward Caris LeVert could foul him.
Brust, needing to pull the ball up from below his waist to get a clean release, hit a 40-foot running shot to send the game into overtime. Like Hardaway, Brust was smothered on the shot — LeVert had good positioning, Brust just hit the tough shot.
“We tried to foul,” Beilein said. “That was the instruction coming out… (Brust) turned the corner on Caris and we couldn’t get it off in time.”
In overtime, both teams struggled to score. Michigan missed five of its six shots of the extra frame, including an open transition layup from McGary after he forced a steal. After the game Beilein said that the Wolverines missed 14 easy points in layups, but that it wasn’t related to the energy at the Kohl Center.
“It has nothing to do with being here,” he said. “Some days, you just miss layups … there’s not a science to this. Sometimes, they just miss them.”
The score remained tied until Brust hit another 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the extra frame to win the game. The last basket scored was just the third combined made shot of overtime.
Burke, just like in a road loss to Ohio State earlier in the year, had a deep 3-pointer rim out with a chance to tie the game. The fans rushed the court, and Michigan still hasn’t won in Madison since 1999.
“I thought we fought all the way until the end,” Burke said. “They just ended up with the momentum today.”
The first half of the game was a little bit more routine.
As expected, Michigan started the game, and the first half, off slow. Wisconsin refused to break their slow-paced offense, working the ball around the perimeter over and over again until the perfect shot presented itself. For a while, it worked, because Michigan couldn’t get the ball out in transition, and the Badgers were hitting their 3-pointers.
But Wisconsin’s shots stopped falling, and despite shooting just over 38-percent from the floor in the first half, and just 3-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line, the Wolverines kept clawing back.
Even with the slow start, a 7-0 run late in the half helped Michigan go into the locker room with a one-point lead after being down by as much as eight earlier in the stanza.
Neither team could pull away in the second half, though, as Wisconsin’s 3-pointers were matched with Michigan’s transition layups.
Michigan was led by Burke, who was the catalyst for pushing the ball against a team that wanted nothing to do with transition. He finished the game with a game-high 19 points, and tied a season-high with five rebounds. Burke needed 21 shots to score his 19 points, but was still vital to the game because he pushed the ball when the Wolverines needed it.
Again, the spark off the bench was McGary. The big man made multiple 18-footers, a range he hasn’t shown much this season, and finished with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting. With regular starter Jordan Morgan still injured, and replacement starter Jon Horford ineffective for most of the contest, McGary provided stability in the post.
Horford started the game, but scored just two points in his seven minutes of play. Stepping up in his place was Bielfeldt, who played a career-high 18 minutes, often paired up with McGary.
“We said, ‘Max is doing it every day, let’s go give him a shot,’ ” Beilein said. “Everybody can’t be on the scout team, and he’s very good. I really love what Max did today.”
In the midst of a brutal stretch that has Michigan playing three ranked teams in eleven days — including three out of four games on the road — a win in Madison would have been huge. Instead, a 40-foot desperation shot has the Wolverines needing a big win in East Lansing on Tuesday night.