hoops game recaps
A sweet victory, indeed. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
As John Beilein delivered his opening statement of the postgame presser, Derrick Walton looked up to the ceiling and mouthed "oh my god."
Michigan won their second instant classic in as many games. Perhaps most remarkable is they went about it in an entirely different way. After making 16 three-pointers against Oklahoma State, the Wolverines were forced by Louisville's aggressive, switching defense to play through their big men. With Derrick Walton struggling to hit his shots, Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson stole the show.
Wagner scored a game-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting. In arguably the best performance of his young career, the big man used a dizzying array of post moves to punish mismatches. His biggest bucket of the game came on a move Beilein has wanted to see from him for a long time; off a pick-and-pop, Wagner got his defender to bite on a pump fake at the three-point line, then drove for a layup to give Michigan a six-point lead with 1:18 to go.
"We feed off of him," Walton said. "Because he's not afraid of anything."
Wilson's all-around impact nearly matched that of his German roommate. The last of his 17 points came in the final 20 seconds at the free-throw line, where his perfect four-for-four shooting kept the Cardinals at bay. His third block of the game ended the contest, as Walton plucked Donovan Mitchell's tipped shot out of the air and triumphantly raced into the frontcourt as the clock expired.
"Our play is kinda contagious on the floor," said Wilson. "I feed off his energy and he feeds off mine. Down the stretch when we pulled out the victory, I was as happy as I could possibly be."
Moe Wagner's best game couldn't have come at a better time. [Campredon]
Louisville led for nearly the entire first half. While neither team shot the ball well, ten UL offensive rebounds kept them out in front, and some creative officiating helped them go on an 8-0 run to close the half after Michigan had finally managed to tie it up. At the break, the outlook was bleak.
"The end of the first half I thought was a defining moment for our team," said Beilein. "A team that's not as experienced or doesn't have the poise that we had, they come back and try to win it all right away, but we won every four-minute period until we got ahead in the game."
That meant weathering a tough stretch at the beginning of the second half. Louisville center Mangok Mathiang matched Wagner bucket-for-bucket, and his putback off a missed three-pointer extended the lead to nine with 14:46 left. Then Michigan's offense really got rolling. Three straight baskets by Zak Irvin cut the deficit to three, and a short time later Wilson nailed a pick-and-pop three to get the Wolverines within one.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman knotted the game at 51 with 8:54 to play, hitting two free-throws after taking a hard foul at the rim. While the teams would trade blows, Michigan never trailed again. Wilson worked his way into the paint to give them the lead. The perimeter finally opened up a bit; Wagner knocked down a triple out of a timeout, then Walton followed suit with a signature stepback, looking as if he had no recollection of going 1-for-11 up to that point.
Derrick Walton came up huge when his team needed it most. [Campredon]
Wagner's pump-fake layup looked like it would ice the game, especially when Jaylon Johnson committed an offensive foul on the following possession, but Louisville wasn't done. Irvin coughed up back-to-back turnovers on inbounds as UL turned up the pressure, and a layup by Mitchell, who led the Cardinals with 19 points, cut the deficit to two as hearts jumped into throats and stomachs churned.
That was Walton's cue. Michigan's unflappable leader hadn't made a shot at the rim all afternoon, but when he got a step on his defender, he didn't hesitate to go up strong over Deng Adel for a layup.
Mitchell would get two more layups, but each one was answered by Wilson free throws. Wilson and Wagner embraced after the game-sealing block to send Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen.
"We're very close," said Wagner. "It's beautiful seeing each other be successful."
It sure is.
Derrick Walton's range extended to the midcourt logo today. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Three is worth more than two.
In one of the most unbelievable offensive showcases these eyes have seen at any level, that core tenet of John Beilein's offense proved the difference.
In a tight contest from start to finish, Michigan couldn't keep Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans from getting into the paint. Evans poured in 23 points and handed out 12 assists, and many of his 16 misses led to second-chance points for the Cowboys. OSU pulled down 16 offensive boards to Michigan's six; they outscored the Wolverines 50-20 in the paint.
Michigan, on the other hand, had a difficult time working their way inside. After clinging to a one-point halftime lead because they took care of the basketball, they laid waste to OSU's defense from the perimeter, sinking 11 of their 15 second-half three-point attempts.
Derrick Walton, to nobody's surprise, led the second-half charge. After a 1-for-6 first half, Walton didn't hesitate to rise and fire from as far out as the edge of the midcourt logo, and for good reason: he scored 19 in the final stanza, hitting 5-of-6 threes.
"It's a lot of fun, first and foremost, to know you have that rock that you can always count on," Duncan Robinson said of Walton. "He's been so good and we go as he goes, so hopefully he's got a little bit more left in the tank."
"I just tapped into the fact that I know I've worked really hard," said Walton. "Just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me, that makes me go out and just play much more free knowing they have a lot of confidence in me."
Zak Irvin's 16 points included some huge second-half jumpers. [Bryan Fuller]
Robinson and Zak Irvin also hit huge shots down the stretch from beyond the arc. DJ Wilson came up with big plays on both ends of the floor, including the game-sealing free-throws to put Michigan up four before Evans drilled an inconsequential—unless you're a gambler—triple at the buzzer.
That capped one of the most entertaining, exhilarating, and stressful games of this college basketball season. So much happened in the second half that it's hard to remember that the game got off to a sluggish start; the two teams were knotted up at 11 at the under-12 timeout. OSU pushed ahead with a swift 9-0 run, then Michigan hit back when John Beilein threw caution to the wind and re-inserted Moe Wagner despite his two early fouls. Both squads settled into a groove, giving a taste of what was to come after the break.
The Cowboys again jumped out to a lead after halftime, and that was only a small part of Michigan's concern, as Walton briefly exited the game with an apparent ankle issue. He returned with the Wolverines down six points; that gap closed to two on M's next three possessions, in which Walton hit a three and dished out two assists. A pair of Wagner free throws deadlocked the game at 59 with 13 minutes to play; from there, Michigan's deadeye shooting made the difference.
Walton sizes up Jawun Evans before drilling a corner three. [Campredon]
While the Wolverines couldn't string together stops, neither could the Cowboys, and Michigan's shots were coming from beyond the arc. With that, the Wolverines needed one decent defensive stretch, and they got that with two stops at the rim—including a huge block by DJ Wilson that led to Walton's midcourt bomb—and a charge drawn on OSU center Mitchell Solomon. Subsequent triples by Wilson and Walton sandwiched around a Phil Forte two-pointer got the lead to eight with 6:47 left.
That held steady until a late OSU comeback push that appeared to be stymied by long jumpers from Irvin and Walton. Robinson missed the front end of two late one-and-ones, however, which added some serious drama to the final moments until Wilson's pair of free throws sealed it.
Michigan took this game despite a quiet performance from Wagner, who scored six points in only 14 minutes as Beilein went with Wilson at the five for much of the second half. Wilson finished with 19 points, while Irvin and Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman each added 16. That proved just enough to overcome Evans and a very efficient 19-point outing from Jeffrey Carroll.
Hopefully, we can catch our collective breath in time for Sunday's game, which will almost certainly be against two-seed Louisville.
Champs. [Paul Sherman]
Michigan's team plane skidded off the runway on Wednesday. The Wolverines flew to Washington DC on Thursday morning. They essentially walked off the plane and right onto the court before crushing Illinois, then went through top-seeded Purdue and four-seed Minnesota to reach the final. Today, they handed Wisconsin their biggest loss* of the season to become the lowest-seeded Big Ten team to win the conference tournament.
No matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament, this week will go down as one of the most incredible in Michigan basketball history, as much due to their play as the trying travel circumstances. Nothing reflects Michigan's incredible late-season transformation more than today's victory. With the offense not firing on all cylinders, the defense shut down Wisconsin's often-overwhelming interior attack.
DJ Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. [Sherman]
Derrick Walton had another exemplary performance, posting 22 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Zak Irvin played a remarkable two-way game, scoring 15 on 6-for-9 shooting, pulling down seven boards, dishing out five assists, and playing tremendous defense both on the perimeter and in the paint.
The difference, however, was DJ Wilson. Not only did Wilson drop 17 points on a wide array of finishes, but he shut down star Wisconsin center Ethan Happ after John Beilein moved him to center at halftime. Happ went 4-for-8 with 8 points in the first half; he shot only 2-for-8 after the break, and three of his four of his second-half offensive rebounds came on one possession. With that adjustment and great all-around defense, the Wolverines cruised in the second half.
Michigan now awaits their NCAA seed, which will be revealed momentarily. What an unbelievable run.
*The 71-56 final score is identical to North Carolina's win over Wisconsin in November
A masterful Walton kept Minnesota off-balance all afternoon. [Paul Sherman]
Can we get a recount?
Minnesota's Nate Mason beat out Derrick Walton for a spot on the All-Big Ten first team last week. Today, the difference between those two guards proved to be the difference in the conference semifinal. Walton was productive and efficient, scoring a career-high 29 points on 8-for-15 field goals and a perfect 10-for-10 mark from the line, dishing out nine assists against a lone turnover, and pulling down four rebounds.
When the Gophers mounted their second-half comeback, Walton's cold-blooded outside shooting and impeccable passing put Michigan back out in front and kept them there. Mason was productive, and nobody would accuse him of not playing well, but he needed 23 shots from the field and a pair of free throws to score 23 points. He tried to match Walton shot-for-shot down the stretch, and that played to Michigan's advantage.
Michigan came out of the gate on fire. Walton had five assists in the opening five minutes as John Beilein's offense created layup after layup. Moe Wagner hit all five of his first-half shots for 14 points, Zak Irvin went 4-for-5 to net nine, and Walton took what the Gopher defense gave him for ten of his own. While Minnesota generated almost all of their offense in the paint, they didn't make any of their four three-point attempts in the half, and that's no way to keep pace with this Michigan squad; the Wolverines threatened to turn this into a laugher with a 47-36 halftime lead.
A plane accident, the hectic travel that ensued, and three games in three days appeared to catch up to Michigan in the second half, however. While the Gophers continued to get what they wanted inside, the Wolverines left a lot of open shots short and failed to pick up shooters on the other end. A wide-open Mason three knotted the game up with 13:11 remaining.
Duncan Robinson broke a six-minute Michigan shooting slump two possession later. While the Gophers would keep it tight they couldn't close the gap again, even with Wagner limited to nine second-half minutes with foul trouble. Walton poured in 17 points after Minnesota tied it up, going 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line with a steal and two assists in that span to shut the door on the Gophers in Burke-like fashion.
Wagner (17), Irvin (13), and Robinson (10) all finished the game in double figures, as did all five starters on a shorthanded Minnesota squad that lost starting two-guard Akeem Springs for the year yesterday. Michigan overcame a severe disadvantage on the boards—Minnesota had a 15 to 2 edge in offensive rebounds—with superior outside shooting, transition offense, and having the only Derrick Walton on the floor.
Walton's Wolverines will face the winner of Wisconsin and Northwestern in tomorrow's Big Ten title game. The unbelievable nature of this week almost obscured the equally unbelievable turnaround by both Walton and the team as a whole in the latter half of the season. This has turned into a banner-worthy squad. They can secure one tomorrow afternoon.
Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant. [Paul Sherman]
I'm still not sure how that happened.
Almost everything that went right for Michigan in their regular-season win over Purdue went wrong today. Moe Wagner didn't make a shot from the field and spent most of the game on the bench with foul trouble. John Beilein got so frustrated with the officiating that he picked up a rare technical. Derrick Walton had his worst game of the last month or so. The Wolverines had more than twice as many turnovers (13) as assists (six) or made three-pointers (also six, on 25 attempts). Isaac Haas brutalized Michigan's big men. The clock operator Spartan Bob'd Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman out of a potential game-winning steal and layup at the end of regulation. Purdue even hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave, because after all, this is the Big Ten Tournament.
Somehow, they persevered. DJ Wilson made up for Wagner's extended absence by scoring 18 of his game-high 26 in the first half, taking advantage of Purdue's big men defending in space like Wagner did the first time around. Zak Irvin alternated great and awful possessions but came up huge down the stretch, tying the game on a layup with 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation. He got to the basket twice more for the only field goals either team made in the overtime session until a desperate Purdue heave with two seconds remaining. Irvin finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and his defense was once again a huge positive.
DJ Wilson was on his game. The arena was on brand. [Sherman]
Haas and Swanigan feasted on the interior, especially the former, who went 8-for-10 from the field to net 17 points in just 15 minutes. Swanigan made 5-of-10 twos, dished out five assists, and pulled down 13 rebounds; he also missed all three shots from beyond the arc and committed four turnovers before fouling out in overtime. Michigan overcame their struggles in the paint with excellent perimeter defense. While Purdue shot 42% on threes, they could only get 19 looks, and their primary sharpshooters were shut down; Ryan Cline was 1-for-2 while Dakota Mathias had a rough 1-for-8 performance.
Free throws ended up as the deciding factor. The Boilermakers were 6-for-13; Michigan went 18-for-23. PJ Thompson's miss on the front end of a one-and-one led to Irvin's tying layup at the end of regulation. In overtime, Walton and Duncan Robinson were able to keep the game just out of reach with perfect trips to the line.
With that, Michigan's incredible, unlikely, bizarre week continued. Despite being the eight-seed, they may very well be the Big Ten Tournament favorite from here on out; they're the only team to beat Purdue over the last ten games and they've done it twice. The Wolverines await the winner of Michigan State and Minnesota in the game currently being played on ESPN. They'll have plenty of motivation in the semifinal either way. Getting off the 8/9 seed line would be huge for their hopes of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament; if they didn't accomplish that today, another win might do it.
Zak Irvin, in practice gear, had one of his best all-around games. [Paul Sherman]
While the harrowing details of yesterday's plane accident were still being released, Michigan played Illinois wearing their practice jerseys. Their normal gear sat in the cargo hold of a crashed plane in Willow Run. Tipoff was delayed by under a half-hour to accommodate the Wolverines arriving at the Verizon Center at 10:40 am for what was originally set to be a noon game.
Once the game started, however, the unusual uniforms were the only sign the Wolverines were less than 24 hours removed from skidding off a runway. Fresh off an early morning flight, Michigan jumped out to a 15-4 lead against Illinois and spent much of the duration ahead by double digits, ending the Illini's NCAA tournament hopes (and quite possibly John Groce's employment hopes) while earning a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Purdue. John Beilein also broke Johnny Orr's school record with his 210th victory at Michigan.
Zak Irvin had his shot going early, netting 12 of his 18 points in the first half. That inital run held strong as Michigan made 5-of-11 threes in the half and forced nine Illinois turnovers on the other end. The defense was every bit as impressive as the offense. Timely weak-side double-teams from the baseline caught the Illini off-guard time and again, and the Wolverines used that element of surprise to convert turnovers into easy points.
Michigan didn't look ready to play a game. Looks can be deceiving. [Sherman]
Tracy Abrams was almost singlehandedly responsible for keeping Illinois within striking distance at halftime due to a personal ten-point run late in the first, and he kept his offense going in the second, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. But Michigan shut down everyone else; no other Illini scored in double figures. Irvin locked down second-team all-conference forward Malcolm Hill, who mustered only four points while going 1-for-8 from the field.
That strong defensive effort gave Michigan the breathing room it needed when their outside shooting suddenly went cold. The Wolverines went only 4-for-14 from beyond the arc in the second half, missing nine in a row at one point. Lethal finishing helped, too; M finished the game a stellar 21-for-31 on two-pointers.
Much of that was driven, as usual, by Derrick Walton. The first-team All-B1G snub played at the remarkable level he has for the last couple months, scoring 19 points, dishing out five assists, and pulling down four rebounds while continually pushing the tempo to catch the Illini defense out of position. Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman looked ready to replicate last year's Big Ten Tournament breakout with 17 points, three assists, and three steals. DJ Wilson had a quiet yet efficient 11 points. Illinois was content to focus on limiting Moe Wagner, who only scored six points but had a huge impact on the other end, coming away with five steals and committing just three fouls.
Maverick Morgan finished with four points, three rebounds, and five turnovers while his "white collar" quote hung above Michigan's lockers.
This team is anything but that now. After a frightening, hectic, and ultimately triumphant 24 hours, they finally have a little time to regroup before facing Purdue at noon tomorrow. The Wolverines are the last team the Boilermakers want to face right now.