At first, it looked like it might be over by halftime.
The Michigan men’s basketball team came out firing in its Big Ten Tournament Semifinal matchup with Minnesota, rolling out to a 29-13 lead in the game’s first 9:19.
Led once again by senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr., the Wolverines’ offense was humming, creating open looks inside and out, and it seemed as though they would put it away with plenty of time to rest their legs before Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game.
But, behind a bruising inside game that saw the Golden Gophers collect 15 offensive rebounds, Minnesota climbed right back into it, forcing a 55-55 tie with 13 minutes left in the second-half and creating another nail-biter for the eighth-seeded Wolverines.
But Derrick Walton Jr. wouldn’t let this one slip away. Left off the All-Big Ten First Team in favor of Minnesota’s Nate Mason, Walton was the best player on the floor on Saturday. He scored 29 points and added nine assists and five rebounds to lead Michigan to an 84-77 win over the Golden Gophers.
Zak Irvin chipped in 12 points, and Moritz Wagner had 17 in the win.
The Wolverines will now play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Right from the outset Saturday, Walton was in control of the game. He notched five assists in the game’s first six minutes, seamlessly directing the offense and setting up the Wolverines’ big early lead.
“He had one heck of a game,” Irvin said.
As the Golden Gophers began to find success at the rim, the Wolverines were able to hang on to their early lead by turning it into something of a shootout. Wagner led all scorers at the break with 14, and the Wolverines went into the break up 47-36.
But as Minnesota regained its defensive composure, they climbed back in. Riding Jordan Murphy’s physicality down low, they pulled even at 55 and forced a scare for the Wolverines. Beilein called a timeout to calm his players down.
“There was a lot of arguing going on in the huddle, and he just said, ‘Forget about basketball right now. Remember to play hard for your brothers,’ ” Irvin said.
Walton hit a 3 shortly after, and then he sank two more with six minutes remaining. It was not until that point that the Wolverines fully regained their control of the game.
Minnesota would eventually cut the Wolverine lead to three with less than a minute left, but Walton came up big once again, icing the game from the line and sending Michigan on to the title game.