Twice in a six-second span, Wolverine guard Daniel Horton responded to Taylor baskets with a pair of free throws, giving Michigan an 83-76 lead with 30.7 seconds left. On the ensuing in-bounds, Horton scooped up an errant pass just shy of half court and was again sent to the line as Michigan all but cemented the victory and a jump into a tie atop the Big Ten standings.
The Wolverines shot 18-for-22 at the charity stripe in a second half featuring 28 fouls, which was the key to protecting a lead that hovered between seven and 11 points for most of the second half.
"We had a chance down the stretch," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "And the recipe usually is, you have to miss some free throws. And they didn't miss down the stretch."
With 1:48 remaining in the game, a Taylor 3-point attempt spun all the way around the inside of the rim and spit out as Wisconsin freshman Joe Krabbenhoft fouled Graham Brown to send the Wolverines to the line. After Brown made 1 of 2 free throws, what would have been a 74-69 game was instead 75-66.
Just a few minutes prior, Taylor had been laid out facedown on the court for a significant period of time after running straight into a pick by Brown near mid-court. A blindsided Taylor was attended to and eventually walked off the court under his own power, visibly shaken. He returned shortly thereafter and reeled off 13 points in the final 2:17 on his way to a career-high 29.
"(I blacked out) as soon as it happened," Taylor said. "But I got back up so I'll be alright. I was just trying to do what I can to help the team to get back in the game.
"But we don't want to put ourselves in that kind of situation where we have to fight back from behind."
Taylor got help from Alando Tucker, who dominated in the paint for much of the game, finishing with 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting. Tucker was quiet down the stretch, however, as Taylor and Ray Nixon attempted to shoot the Badgers back into the game from long range. Nixon went 5-for-7 with 13 points and looked assertive and confident in his shot both from mid-range and beyond the arc.
The play out of those big three for Wisconsin was overshadowed on Saturday by the duo of shooting guard Dion Harris and center Courtney Sims of Michigan. The two combined to go 16 of 22 in a game in which Michigan shot 55 percent from the floor compared to 45 percent Wisconsin shooting.
Sims (18 points) had his way with the Wisconsin bigs on the low block all afternoon. Despite sitting out for a large portion of the second half due to foul trouble, Sims repeatedly established good position in the post, and his teammates were able to get him the ball in good spots. The Badgers did not think they did a good enough job denying that feed down low.
"We let them get too many touches in close to the basket," Ryan said. "We let them catch it too close to the basket…We can't let them catch it down there."
Harris hit big shots all game long, but the most important run might have been in the opening stretch of the game. Wisconsin did not do an effective job of getting past screens that allowed Harris to connect on three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes as Michigan opened up an early 20-11 lead. Harris finished 5-for-9 from long-range and led Wolverine scorers with 23. His third triple, with 13:32 left in the first half, gave Michigan a 17-11 lead. From that point forward the Badgers would draw no closer than five points.
"We didn't want to give up those shots," Ryan said. "But on the exchange coming off the top of the screen, if you're a little bit behind on the chase or if you get rubbed off and a guy gets a 3, you've got to get it back on the other end."
Trying to play from behind in front of a crowd that got into the game at the tip and did not quiet for much of the remainder, Wisconsin found itself in a tough spot and could never seem to get over the hump. Michigan never lapsed significantly in maintaining its lead and although Wisconsin had three starters combine for 63 points, the rest of the team and especially the bench did little to contribute scoring-wise.
The Michigan bench, led by 15 points from Chris Hunter, outscored the Badger reserves 20-6. Also, Brian Butch and the Wisconsin bigs were largely quiet. Butch finished with just three points and three rebounds in 17 minutes before fouling out.
With the recent loss of reserves Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma for the remainder of the season, freshman Kevin Gullikson saw his most extended time this year in place of Butch. He played 20 minutes and was active on both ends, finishing with four points and two rebounds.
With a number of Wisconsin players in foul trouble, the already limited rotation came into play as Michigan out-rebounded the Badgers 36 to 27. Ryan spoke about a need to limit second-chance opportunities following the loss. The most crippling example of this occurred around the seven-minute mark of the second half.
Michigan killed any momentum the Badgers had with a five-point possession, which started when Brown scored and was fouled. The Wolverines rebounded the free throw and Jerret Smith was sent to the line, where he made the first and missed the second, again into the arms of Michigan. Finally, Hunter was fouled on a third shot attempt and made two free throws to extend the lead to 12.
"You're battling back and it seems like those right there just puts the icing on the cake for the other team," Tucker said. "The crowd gets back into it."
The win gives the Wolverines their second victory this week over a ranked opponent and may put the team in the top 25 for the first time since 1998. The Badgers, on the other hand, dropped their third of four games for the first time since Bo Ryan's first season in 2001-02. Michigan and Wisconsin are currently two of four teams tied atop the Big Ten standings with a 5-2 conference mark, joining Illinois and Iowa.
Wisconsin returns home to host the Illini at the Kohl Center on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.