You don’t go into the Kohl Center and leave with a win without making a few of your own breaks in the process. Michigan learned that lesson the hard way on Tuesday night.

The Wolverines made plenty of big shots and big plays on the road against the Big Ten’s best, but old habits, key mistakes, bad breaks and Bronson Koenig were just too much to overcome down the stretch. Michigan was the better team for 34 minutes, but the Badgers won the final 6.

The Wolverines led throughout much of the second half after opening the period on a 17-2 run. Back-to-back threes helped the Wolverines surge into a 49-43 lead with 6:29 to play and forced a Wisconsin timeout. Then Bronson Koenig came alive and took over the game. The Wisconsin senior scored 10 of Wisconsin’s next 12 points as the Badgers rattled off a 15-0 run to seize control of the game.

Yes — there were an array of plays and calls that didn’t quite seem to go Michigan’s way. Wisconsin was in the bonus for the final 14:29 of the game after a first half that featured only 10 fouls total. Xavier Simpson’s late steal never did appear to go out of bounds as was called and it wasn’t reviewed. It’s easy to come up with a list of gripes after any game on the road in the Big Ten, especially in Madison, but the chance was there for Michigan to make winning plays down the stretch.

Even after everything that happened, the Wolverines had that late 6-point lead. The opportunity was there, they just didn’t take it.

There was still progress for a team that was wiped off the floor in Champaign last week to prove that they can play at least some defense and compete with the league’s best team. But it’s still not enough. The critical mistakes that have plagued Michigan this year were still present: an offensive rebound on a free throw that led to a four-point possession, a late missed front-end, a turnover on an offensive inbound play, helping off of Bronson Koenig late.

Those mistakes aren’t new and Michigan couldn’t avoid them for 40 minutes.

“Up six with six to go: I’ve seen that movie before,” John Beilein said after the loss. “They did a great job down the stretch. We did not make some shots, they made some shots and that’s the story.”

Michigan’s offense sputtered along in the first half, but came to life in the second. As encouraging as it was to score 43 points on 31 second half possessions against the Badgers (1.38 PPP), scoring .69 points per trip in the first half was equally discouraging. For all of the great offensive moments — Zak Irvin played a great game, Duncan Robinson — there were those moments where the Wolverine offense just let a few too many possessions get away.

Give Michigan’s defense some credit, they got down and really defended better than they have for weeks. Wisconsin eventually pulled over a point per possession, but even the 1.08 points per trip that Michigan allowed was its second best defensive performance of the Big Ten season (and Wisconsin’s second-worst offensive performance in league play). Wisconsin relentlessly pounded the ball into the post and the Wolverines provided more resistance than I thought they had in them, holding the Badgers to 49% two-point shooting. Michigan also held up on the glass, rebounding 77% of Wisconsin’s missed shots on the night.

The biggest difference defensively was Wisconsin’s ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. Three Wolverines fouled out and the Badgers shot 24 free throws to 53 field goal attempts, although 12 were off of late intentional fouls. That difference at the line could have been an even bigger difference, but the Badgers made only 14-of-24 freebies.

John Beilein’s history at Michigan is littered with frustrating games just like this one against Wisconsin. He’s now 2-18 against the Badgers and this one might not have been as maddeningly painful of a loss as some others, but it certainly cracks the top-10 script.

The hope has to be that the Wolverines proved to themselves that they are capable of playing with just about anyone in this conference and learned a thing or two about what it takes to win down the stretch. Next up, a rematch with the Illinois team that throttled them and called them ‘white collar’ and that is dramatically worse on the road.

Player Bullets:

  • Zak Irvin: Zak Irvin played a hell of a game. He finished 9-of-16 from the floor and hit all of the tough twos that we talked about Michigan needing against Wisconsin. He also attacked the basket early in both halves and picked up some critical buckets. His three assists led the team and Michigan probably isn’t in this game without his performance. The turnovers, especially the late inbound, are frustrating, but this was a good game overall from the 6-6 senior. Irvin disappeared a bit down the stretch (a phenomenon that Nigel Hayes wants to take some credit for), but it also seemed like Michigan just started going in a different direction as Walton and then Wagner had their number called late.
  • Derrick WaltonThe last thing Michigan needed was for Derrick Walton to leave injured. He took two hard falls — first on a box out and then on a drive — and left the game in serious pain with what looked to be a back injury. Walton’s health is paramount to wherever this team is going and it’s too bad because it seems like he’s starting to put a few things together. The Michigan point guard finished with 15 points and made 3-of-5 triples, he also managed to keep Koenig in check for 35 minutes, but will want a few of those late moments back as he got caught on an elevator screen and helped off of him late.
  • Moritz Wagner:  Wagner held in there to play much better defense than I thought he was capable of against Ethan Happ, and he also had some nice offensive moments. But John Beilein called his number down the stretch and he just didn’t come up with the goods. Michigan called timeout after Wisconsin tied the game with 5 minutes to play and Wagner used the next three possessions: missed three, missed three, missed front-end, turnover. When he was done, Michigan trailed by 9. He’s one of Michigan’s most efficient offensive players, he’s hit big shots, shoots over 40% on threes: I have no problem with calling his number late, but he just didn’t execute tonight.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson stepped up and made some huge shots, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 (3-5 3pt) shooting from the floor. There were a couple moments that it looked like he hesitated in the second half, but then he snapped out of it and really started hunting his shot. I liked the aggressiveness and this was one of the better games that the junior has played in a while, especially when he was forced into action with Wilson’s foul trouble.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman hit a pair of threes, grabbed six rebounds and handed out two assists, but made only 1-of-4 shots inside the arc. I liked how aggressive he attacked at times, but he just needs to finish a few more of those looks at the basket.
  • DJ WilsonWilson is just so close to putting everything together, but the moments when he can actually do everything that he’s capable of are fleeting. He had some great defensive moments in the post, blocked three shots and his five defensive rebounds were the most he’s had in a game since Iowa. He held Nigel Hayes in check, played well against Happ. I’m not even worried about the 0 points from the floor, those will come, he just needs to eliminate the moments where he just turns off. For example in the first half, Wilson missed a three, almost fronted Happ, got pinned on a layup attempt and then gave up an and-one in transition. Those bursts where he just can’t quite execute can be back-breakers.
  • Xavier Simpson: Simpson provided a defensive spark and it felt like he should have been credited with more than the 1 steal on the box score. He might be limited offensively, but he gave the Wolverines key minutes when Walton was on the bench. He missed his only three-point attempt, but it was encouraging to see that he didn’t hesitate before firing it up as he did against Nebraska.
  • Mark DonnalThis was a disappointing performance from Donnal. He was immediately scored on twice in the block in the first half and committed two quick fouls. He didn’t record a defensive rebound and was whistled for 3 fouls in 8 minutes in a forgettable performance against the Badger front line.
  • jlustig22

    Tough one. A lot of good things but just enough bad plays in the last 6 mins to lose the game. Nice to see us play some solid defense for once. I thought Wilson and Wagner played well inside contesting shots. Irvin had it going but I still was waiting for the shoe to drop and us blow the lead. Always seems to happen at the Kohl Center.

    Some observations:

    1) Wagner has to play smarter. All of his fouls tonight were unnecessary and foolish. I have no problem committing fouls preventing easy buckets but none of his were of that variety. I don’t think he gets a very fair whistle from Big Ten refs but he doesn’t help the matter either.

    2) I would have a hard time playing Donnal in the next game after that performance. There is no excuse to get beat for rebounds off of missed free throws. His effort in blocking out was nonexistent. I don’t know what Teske offers at this point but Donnal doesn’t warrant playing time with that type of effort.

    3) We are really poor inbounding underneath our own basket. Not that this is a new phenomenon but it can’t be that hard to get open and avoid committing TO’s.

    4) I still wish we would push the tempo more often. I don’t expect us to play fast but it wouldn’t kill us to at least attempt to score some fast break baskets. It just seems like Walton doesn’t want to even try to push the ball up the court hard.

    5) I think Simpson might be ok playing up tempo but I don’t know about him in the halfcourt. His shot doesn’t look good. Seems like a push shot from 3. Walton can’t beat anyone off the dribble but he can shoot. Simpson may be able to get into the lane but he’s so small that I don’t know what’s going to happen when he gets in there.

    • ChathaM

      I agree re: Donnal. I believe he was pulled from the game late simply due to a lack of effort. Teske looked absolutely lost out there defensively in his limited minutes, but maybe it’s time to begin that transition.

  • ChathaM

    This was very disappointing. UW was definitely off its offensive game tonight; plenty of missed open shots, and looked out of synch offensively at times; so it was a great opportunity. But, as Dylan said, when plays needed to be made, they made them, we didn’t, and we lost. It’s so frustrating to see guys make great plays at times, but play undisciplined ball in the clutch; Wagner being in good position to challenge the elevator play, but just standing there like he had no clue what was happening; Walton inexplicably helping off of Koenig when the game plan was to not help off of him; Irvin driving to the basket, drawing two help defenders, having two teammates open in his sights, then doing whatever he did to throw the ball OOB; Wilson with both hands below his waist, allowing Hayes to hit the late 3. These guys all do great things, but also seem to give it back in spades. I understand that, to an extent, that’s what college players do. But, it’s consistent from game to game, and it’s driving me crazy.

    I was also surprised at how well our bigs defended the post one-on-one. I’m sure Gard was just as surprised, as the clear game plan was to work the post, probably more than usual. That was certainly a bright spot for us, and now we know the guys can do it.

    Dakich called Beilein one of the best in the game at designing OOB plays. I disagree completely. For years, even when we had NBA players on the roster, we’ve seen consistent trouble getting the ball in bounds, let alone getting a good look at the basket. After the timeout with 2.7 seconds left in the first half, what did we run? Same thing as always.

    The second half officiating was poor. As an official, I generally defend officials. But, there were many fouls called on us on plays where the minimal contact was inconsequential. There was a clear call made against UW that Beilein bought (clearly no foul on that play). There were heavy contact no-calls that involved a player in an advantageous position. Finally, there was a ball called OOB that was clearly not OOB. That was the capper, as you simply cannot call a ball OOB unless you’re absolutely sure it was OOB. I don’t think you can say that officiating cost us the game, but you certainly can say that it was poor; easily the worst called game that I’ve seen this season.

  • Wayman Britt

    That was a very winnable game, that could of maybe shook some things up in the conference. In the end, Wagner missed his shots and Bronson made his.

  • Chris De Sana

    Like many others I had low expectations going into the game. That said it was a game we could have and should have walked away with the Win.

    More of the same really other than more minutes of better defense than not and that kept them in the game and gave them every opportunity for the Win.

    Going forward we have to be ready for more of the same.

    A PG in Walton that struggles to run the chosen offense which means he is really not a PG but a SG.

    A SG in MAAR that at his best is a down drive and kick player with average handles and jumper but less than average passing skills.

    A SF in Irvin who runs the high PNR better than anyone else if not based solely on his ability to hit the curl jumper with some regularity. But……he simply struggle to distribute off the same action which is odd because he does have some length to see the play develop.

    A PF in Wilson that has developed beyond most our expectations but is still just a catch and shoot guy in the end. Last night he was often guarded by smaller players yet never went inside asking for the ball to take advantage of his length.

    And a C in Wagner who again has developed nicely but is still immature at times and often forgets what we are told by the coach that he wants a big man in the middle that can score in the paint first and stretch the defense by hitting 3 balls next.

    And last all of the above more often than not struggle to defend with consistency.

    All in all a sub 500 team in conference. Was just expecting and hoping for more. And because of it have to play all the freshman more one way or another.

    • ChipperFliet

      Great observations and excellent analysis of who we are.
      I also would like to see the freshman a get a little more time, but on the other hand, you have to put the guys on the floor who give you the best chance of winning.

  • AC1997

    Dylan you were very diplomatic about the officiating. It is true that the 4-point trip by Wisconsin probably decided the game, but you cannot understate how horrible the officiating was. Just look at it:

    — The first half is a slog fest as both teams were sloppy, but a very normal number of fouls were called both ways.
    — Michigan fouls less than any team IN THE COUNTRY and yet as soon as they go up 8 there are five quick fouls called and Wisconsin is shooting the rest of the way.
    — Michigan’s two best players (Wilson & Wagner) got in quick foul trouble for very light fouls. Happ came back in with 3 fouls and didn’t get another. (Partially because the guys defending him were on the bench with fouls).
    — Walton and Irvin drive to the hoop, draw contact, don’t get a call. The bigs go up for a rebound and get called for a foul if they touch a Wisconsin player. Those plays weren’t fouls in the first half, but they were in the second.
    — The FT shots were 24-to-11 even though the teams play a similar style of offense.

    When Michigan went up 8 and those quick five fouls were called to send Wilson, Wagner, and Walton to the bench I knew there was no way Michigan could win. It felt like no matter how well they played, they were in trouble.

    *** I know plus-minus is a flawed stat, but I bet when Michigan’s starters were on the floor they were definitely positive. THAT is why Michigan lost, because they had three starters foul out for the first time in the history of Beilein’s coaching career I bet. ***

  • AC1997

    Some player thoughts:
    – I was glad that Teske got some minutes because they need to see if he can offer something. But not only did he look a little lost, but he’s ignored on offense and that makes it hard to keep him on the floor too much right now. But it is time to try.
    – Donnal…..woof. That was nothing like his performance last year. He was just bad last night when they desperately needed him to chip in. I initially was hesitant on taking away his 5th year, but I think they need to see what Davis/Teske (and Bamba??) can offer.
    – I’m still trying to figure out how Simpson was such a scorer in high school. He seems afraid to have the ball in his hand on offense. I like how hard he plays defense (one steal, one jump ball, one steal on the crappy out of bounds play, etc.)

    • robpollard

      With Donnal, I have to think he’s read all the message boards or something and internalized that he’s a bad player. He clearly can contribute — he literally did so earlier this year against Marquette and SMU, playing two very good games; that’s on top of some very good games last year. But since VT, he’s basically fallen apart.

      Beilein has to coach him up and say something like, “I know you must be frustrated and down on yourself that you lost your starting job and didn’t get a 5th year. But we wouldn’t have made the tourney last year without you, and we can’t make it this year without you contributing 15 minutes or so off the bench — that means tough rebounding (including boxing out), moving your feet on defense, and making a few shots a game. You can do it — you’ve done it before. Also, other teams are watching and the quality of the grad transfer scholarship you’ll get will depend on your play these next 12 games”

      If after something like that, he doesn’t show immediate improvement (i.e., starting against Illinois), then it’s time to move on to Teske, who (to be frank) has looked not-quite-ready but at least he’s young and will get better at UM.

      • AC1997

        Well, Donnal is human and thus will have bad days and good days. I can’t imagine being someone in his shoes who sees random people like us criticize him anonymously on the internet. That would be hard to deal with.

        At the same time, I don’t completely agree with your position. While he did lose his starting spot to a clearly more talented player – he’s a veteran who is pretty much assured to get 15 minutes per game no matter what. On top of that, Beilein has shown in the past that he will ride the hot hand. Even more importantly, Donnal has had several really, really good games in his career.

        He has to know that his coach is going to give him minutes and should have confidence in his own skills that if he plays hard he can help them win. He’s not going to be an above-the-rim guy or focal point of the offense. But he needs to box out, hold on to the ball, and move his feet on defense. His biggest asset to the team is to bring energy off the bench and play fundamentally sound basketball. Jordan Morgan made a solid career for himself doing nothing but that – sound fundamentals!

        If Donnal isn’t going to hustle or play with good fundamentals, we might as well roll the dice with the guy who’s 7′ tall and still oozes potential. It sucks when Wilson and Wagner get cheap fouls, but at least they’re working hard and trying to make a play.

    • MAZS

      I don’t know if Donnal has simply regressed, or that, because he was the leading scorer in 4 B10 gameslast season among other positives, he is unhappy with his role this year, but he oftentimes looks like he is hardly trying. Not sure which is worse. Then again, with Donnal’s demeanor, who knows? I miss the Donnal of the 2016 B10 season. That guy can contribute to this team. Please come back.

  • Mattski

    I know you have to chronicle the game, Dylan, but if I’m the coach I celebrate the improved play, point to the breaks and bad calls that might have changed the outcome, and start cultivating the anger that should fuel play against the Illini.

    • Mattski

      Quotes from the presser:

      “We’re three or four possessions from being — the
      only game that was not right down to the wire was the Illinois game. So
      we haven’t been able to do that, and what do you do? You just keep
      working at it and working at it and working at it, and it’s a play here
      and a play there and you see what you can do.”

      “There are some great things coming together.”

      • AC1997

        There’s two ways to look at this. If you’re an optimist (or have to coach these guys the rest of the season) you’re talking about how they could have won Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and Maryland. They were RIGHT THERE.

        On the other hand…..they didn’t. They lost all of those. Their defense has been historically bad (despite improvement last night), their effort is erratic, they are getting essentially nothing from their freshmen, and the number of unforced errors continues to kill them.

        • robpollard

          I wouldn’t say their effort has been erratic, at all. Overall, they’ve played hard every game. That’s a reason each game (except Illinois) have been close.

      • Chris De Sana

        And a team full of experience should win more games than not in these sort of situations but we are not.

  • Jon Sohn

    I thought that was basically as good as the Wolverines can play or at least have demonstrated they can play. And its not good enough to make the NCAAs. Wilson is clearly much improved but really needs to develop a back to the basket game to be a consistent threat. Loved the defensive effort last night and overall effort with the exception of Donnal. Down the stretch i was disappointed they went to Wagner and not Robinson and Irvin. But overall for the talent they have that was really the best they can do against a bigger, more talented Wisconsin team. Robinson seemed to catch fire and play more aggressively offensively, that needs to continue as it opens up the rest of the offense. The level of talent recruitment is the core challenge for Michigan Basketball.

    • gobluemd16

      I agree totally agree with you, re: not going to Duncan and Zak. In a vaccuum, playing thru Moe is a good decision, but he just wasn’t playing well last night and had just come off the bench after picking up his 4th foul — he wasn’t in rhythm. Zak and Duncan were who extended our leads to 8 and 6. Would have preferred them getting the ball down the stretch.

    • AC1997

      Hmm…..not sure I agree. Early in the season we all complained about Irvin’s late-clock choices. While he had a good game, I still think Wagner is their best offensive player. If he makes those two free throws and the ref doesn’t screw Simpson on his steal it gets interesting.

      Maybe my only gripe is the second three from Wagner. I think the first was wide open, but after you miss that I think you go to the post if you can.

      What really killed Michigan was that the cheap fouls on Wagner/Wilson meant that they couldn’t contain or attack Happ and his fouls.

  • ChipperFliet

    Mark Donnal – Looks to me that he has “checked out.” Totally disinterested and unmotivated.

    Just my opinion, formed only from watching games on TV (and the Texas game in person).

    Even the shots of him on the sidelines are one of apathy. I understand that his personality
    seems to be quite docile, but still, at least act like you care.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Great performance by Michigan… if we played like that against IIinois, Maryland, those would be 2Ws, Wisconsin is talented…Irvin/Walton both starting to pla y like seniors/careers coming to an end in Ann Arbor…great game by Duncan too…Donnal has regressed – maybe cause he seems himself as the third wheel

  • MrLG

    I quibble with Dylan’s assessments in a few ways:

    1. I saw Mo Wagner alpha male emerge. That was cool. Michigan badly needs guys who say “I am better than this guy, i can take him”. OK, the problem is that he isn’t quite there yet, but he will be, assuming that he sticks around for at least another year. In any case, he got into Happ’s head, and that does not show up in the box score line.

    2. After relentlessly bashing Duncan’s defense (with justification), you should have given him a major shoutout for the best defensive game of his life. Like, wow, nobody blew past him. He should have shot more. Funny to see Wagner yelling at him again, that alpha male thing again.

    It was a fun game to watch. Michigan matches up well with Wisconsin and certainly could beat them in AA.

    • Chris De Sana

      I agree with your statement on Moe, but also think he has to be careful not to be that guy that never gets a call because the refs think he is showing them up at times with his dramatic expressions.