The knockout blow. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Derrick Walton pump-faked, got Wisconsin's defense to collapse, and found Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, who hit a corner bomb through contact for a four-point play that gave Michigan the lead. While perhaps not expected, it wasn't the least likely thing in the world.
Then came the following sequence: Mark Donnal blocked Ethan Happ, Michigan got out on the fast break, and Zak Irvin's three-pointer hit nothing but net. Suddenly the Wolverines were up seven.
A few minutes later, Irvin found himself one-on-one on Ethan Happ, who'd dominated every defender Michigan threw his way. Irvin held his ground, though, and Moe Wagner picked off Happ's attempt to kick the ball back out. Adbur-Rahkman rewarded his center with a feed on the ensuing fast break, and the force of Wagner's dunk knocked Wisconsin's Zak Showalter to the ground. Crisler got as loud as it's been all season.
"I've been guarding fours and fives since I was a freshman here," said Irvin. "I guarded [Frank] Kaminsky as a freshman when we played Wisconsin. So it's really nothing new. Ethan Happ is a great player, I give him all the credit, but I think we really just wanted to win more."
On the strength of that second-half run, Michigan got a much-needed victory over a ranked team, and it didn't come in a fashion anyone expected. Happ was unstoppable for most of the evening, scoring 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting and dishing out six assists. Walton, who'd carried the scoring load for much of the last month, had eight assists but only mustered five points. DJ Wilson helped erase Nigel Hayes on defense, but he was invisible on offense; the two seemed to cancel each other out.
Irvin's improbable banked-in three may have snapped his slump. [Bryan Fuller]
Coming to life after a couple midrange jumpers and a banked-in three from the top of the key, Irvin broke out of his slump at the perfect time. Irvin's 18 points were the most he's scored since dropping 20 in the first game against Wisconsin nearly a month ago to the day. His passing and defense were also critical components of tonight's win.
"I made the pull-up in the beginning of the first half," said Irvin. "That's usually my go-to shot, so I got to see that one go down, had a lot of confidence after that. The bank shot, you know, it's three points, so I'll take it any way I can get it, to be honest with you."
The win seemed unattainable only a few minutes into the second half. Wisconsin had fought off an 8-2 Michigan run to start the game, riding Happ to a one-point halftime lead. They stormed out of the gate in the second with a 7-0 run featuring a Happ assist and a bucket that brought him to 20 points with 17:35 to play. The Wolverines countered with six quick points, however, and after the teams traded a few buckets, Irvin found the bank open late and Happ committed his second foul. Irvin would score eight more points; Happ would go scoreless for the duration, harried by more frequent double-teams, and eventually foul out of the game.
MAAR's four-point play lit up the building. [Campredon]
Michigan got huge baskets down the stretch from Wagner, who drilled a late pick-and-pop triple over Happ to get to a team-high 21 points, and Rahkman, who needed only eight shots to net his 12. Even though the Wolverines missed a couple front-end free throws in the bonus, Wisconsin couldn't draw closer than five points after the final media timeout, and that only came after a comical five-shot possession that burned most of the remaining clock. Fittingly, it was Irvin who capped the scoring at the free-throw line.
"We knew our backs were against the wall going into this stretch that we have," said Irvin. "It still is. This helps us out, beating Wisconsin, but we can't let our foot off the gas. We've got to keep our foot on the gas. We know Minnesota is going to be a tough environment, and we'll be ready for it."