ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Knowing well before tipoff that their senior point guard wasn’t going to play, members of the University of Wisconsin had all afternoon and evening to figure out who was going to step up in his absence.
Ethan Happ did on offense, Khalil Iverson was active off the bench and Zak Showalter delivered on defense. That was it. On the road in the Big Ten, especially with a team that continues to struggle with offensive flow, that’s simply not enough.
In a game that featured eight ties and 11 lead changes, No.11 Wisconsin lost its composure over the final 10 minutes and change in a 64-58 defeat to Michigan at the Crisler Center Thursday.
Moritz Wagner scored 21 points (8.1 above his season average), Zak Irvin added 18 and Muhammad Abdur-Rahkman scored 12, including six straight points during a second half spurt, that put Michigan (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten) ahead for good and extended UW’s misery.
Happ scored 22 points before fouling out in the final minute for Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten), which has lost two straight for the first time since March 2016 and fell back into a three-way tie in the conference standings with Maryland and Purdue.
Wisconsin played without senior Bronson Koenig, who was ruled out Thursday morning to rest his ailing left calf. It was the first game Koenig, who had averaged 15 points in four career meetings against Michigan, had missed since the second game of his true freshman season, and the first time in 38 games UW had a change to its starting lineup.
D'Mitrik Trice started in Koenig’s place – becoming just the fifth true freshman to start for Wisconsin since 2000 – but the point guard finished with nine points on 2-for-15 shooting, He also delivered a foul on Abdur-Rahkman’s 3-point make that led to a made free throw during a back-breaking 9-0 Michigan run in the second half.
Iverson popped for 10 points off the bench but the Badgers didn’t get much scoring from anybody else, including their seniors. Nigel Hayes attempted only seven shots and finished with six points and Vitto Brown was scoreless on five shots.
"More guys need to continue to step up and contribute," said head coach Greg Gard.
UW shot 38.3 percent from the field and 30 percent (9-for-30) in the second half. Take out Happ’s 10-for-13 performance, UW shot 27.7 percent (13-for-47) and missed a ton of easy looks around the rim.
According to Gard, Wisconsin went 10-for-16 in the paint in the first half and 7-for-21 in the lane after halftime.
“We can defend terrifically, but you’ve got to put the ball in the basket,” Gard said. “We weren’t able to do it at a consistent enough rate, which is the thing this group has struggled with all year in maintaining a level of consistency in different categories.”
Looking for a slice of redemption after Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh scored 25 points Sunday, Showalter made senior guard Derrick Walton a non-factor. Walton entered having averaging 23 points over the last five games but managed only five points on 1-for-8 shooting against Showalter.
“I thought he did a terrific job on Walton,” Gard said. “We probably did as well of a job as anybody has all year for the most part.”
Showalter also gave Wisconsin its final lead on a 3-point play at 47-45 with 10:47 remaining. The offense went south after that, going scoreless for 4:28 on seven consecutive empty possessions. Michigan outscored UW 13-3 run over the next six minutes to deliver the dagger, as the Badgers made only two field goals after Showalter’s play.
“We’ve got to be able to finish point blank and we have the ball right at the rim,” Gard said. “All it takes is one or two missed opportunities that they capitalize upon, and eventually that chip in the window becomes a crack and then the crack busts the window and eventually we can’t get back to where we need to be.”
Wisconsin shot 46.7 percent in the first half, its highest shooting first half since Jan.3, and scored 22 points in the paint four days after managing only 12 against Northwestern.
Happ was responsible for 27 of Wisconsin's 31 points in the first half, scoring 18 points (one more than the last two games combined) and four assists that led to nine points.
But without much action from his teammates in the second half, Michigan held him to only four points while the sophomore committed all five of his fouls, helping the Wolverines beat the Badgers for only the third time in the last 20 meetings.