For the second time this season, Michigan and Wisconsin played a tight, tense game featuring great performances from both starting centers and quality defense on nearly every possession. For the second time, the home team held a small lead for much of the second half, and never relinquished it, eventually pulling away for a comfortable margin of victory that belied how close the game was. Charles Matthews was the difference for Michigan, scoring an efficient 16 points after the break and showing off his entire offensive arsenal.
Early on, Ethan Happ was dominant. He started with an isolation drive on Jon Teske and made a layup to start the game — Wisconsin went with that look often, and Happ sometimes eventually settled into a post-up. Happ would score eight points before the first TV timeout, as Michigan chose not to bring the double team and had Teske guard him one-on-one. While Happ certainly got the best of that matchup early on, the effectiveness of his isolation takes and post touches waned over the course of the game. He did get Wisconsin out to a big lead early, as a D’Mitrik Trice three brought the score to 13-5.
Michigan finally got going offensively about midway through the first half. Ignas Brazdeikis — who had another rough game against the Badgers, scoring just two points on nine shots — was blocked at the rim by Nate Reuvers, but Michigan rescued the possession and was rewarded with an Isaiah Livers three. On the next trip down the floor, Eli Brooks set up Teske, who slipped a ball screen, for two more. Zavier Simpson got to his right and scored past Davison, then found Teske on a side pick-and-roll for a dunk to give Michigan its first lead of the game at 18-17 with nine minutes left.
The rest of the half was a slog. Iggy kept on missing shots (including some wide open looks), and Happ was no longer able to score at will — though he did score on Teske and Matthews on back-to-back possessions to give Wisconsin a lead. After a physical first half, he picked up his second foul with two minutes left by shoving Teske before catching an entry pass. Teske knocked down a pick-and-pop three on the next possession, and a Kobe King put-back tied the score at 27 right before halftime.
Both teams were still cold to open the second half, but one of the most consequential plays of the game came when Happ committed his third foul. He isolated Teske, drove, missed a reverse layup, and then hit Teske while going for the rebound. While Michigan would only outscore Wisconsin by four in the ten minutes Happ was on the bench, the Badgers were much worse without him. Frequently, they were leveraged into terrible shots — and to Davison’s credit, he knocked down a few big ones to prevent Michigan from pulling away — without the linchpin of their inside-out style.
Jon Teske carried the scoring early in the second half for the Wolverines, but the arrival of Charles Matthews decided the game. Matthews’s first play — a tap-out for an offensive rebound and Jordan Poole layup — was innocuous enough, but he took over from there. He posted up Brevin Pritzl and scored a layup after an aggressive move; he posted up King and while King knew he’d try a fadeaway over his right shoulder, Matthews still hit it. He made a wild layup over Reuvers, hit a step-back two over Pritzl, dished an assist to Teske after drawing help, and threw down a two-handed dunk after blowing by Khalil Iverson. Even though Michigan didn’t make a three in the second half (0-10), they scored enough to maintain a slim lead — and that was because of Matthews.
The Wolverine defense was fantastic, as always. Teske — who may have been trying to avoid fouling — conceded several baskets early in the game, but Michigan stuck with its gameplan. The Wolverines dared Happ to beat them, and while he had a 18 point, 11 rebound double-double, he took 19 shots and had 5 turnovers to just one assist. Michigan didn’t panic and didn’t risk double-teaming Happ at the expense of leaving other players open and having Happ, an excellent passer, create open looks. While Reuvers, Trice, and Davison each made a few nice offensive plays, Happ was the only Badger to finish with double-digit points. Michigan stuck to shooters, and Wisconsin went 4-12 from behind the arc.
A Happ layup after a Matthews switch cut Michigan’s lead to 51-50 with just over four minutes left, but Michigan scored the next ten points to put the game away. Simpson made an acrobatic reverse layup after catching Reuvers on a switch, and then Matthews hit two shots over Reuvers: a baseline jumper after a drive to the basket, and a beautiful step-back two to beat the shot clock. After that basket with four minutes left, Michigan stopped Happ on three straight possessions — Teske stole a high-low entry pass and then forced misses around the basket. The victory was capped off by a Poole to Livers alley-oop dunk after Poole broke the Wisconsin press.
It was an important win the chase for a Big Ten championship: Michigan’s two games ahead of Purdue (who has an easy remaining schedule) in the win column, and the loss pushes Wisconsin back to a tie for fourth with Maryland. Michigan’s defensive effort and execution was as good as ever, and Matthews may have rediscovered his game after a rough stretch of games. The Wolverines travel to Happy Valley to take on 1-11 Penn State on Tuesday.
[Box score after the JUMP]