Wolverines battle but fall in OT to No. 6 Badgers
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Wisconsin Badgers got a crucial win Saturday.
They got something else as well — a ton of respect for the Michigan Wolverines.
In a nationally televised game where the sixth-ranked Badgers were expected to roll over the young, undermanned Wolverines, Derrick Walton Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds to play to force overtime. Wisconsin eventually prevailed 69-64 but knew they were fortunate to get the win.
"We knew coming into the game that they’ve got a young, inexperienced team, but we also knew they were going to give us their best shot," said Josh Gasser, one of the two seniors who lead Wisconsin. "They’ve got a lot of talent, and everyone knows they’ve got a great coach."
After losing five players to the NBA in the last two seasons, a sixth to graduation and a seventh to transfer, the Wolverines have been fighting uphill all year, and now they are doing it without their one marquee player, Caris LeVert. LeVert is out for the season after sustaining a foot injury earlier this month.
"We’ve heard all about how bad this is for us, but we do things differently around here," said Walton, who scored seven points in the final 22 seconds of regulation. "We lost guys last year, too. That means throwing new guys into the fire, and that’s the fastest way for them to learn."
Coach John Beilein hasn’t hesitated to use everyone on the roster, from his captains to the guys who are usually just leading the cheers. The Wolverines used all 11 players in the first half, as Beilein threw a dizzying array of offensive and defensive looks at the Big Ten’s best team.
At one point, Beilein had walk-on Andrew Dakich playing point guard, and moments later, it was another non-scholarship player, Sean Lonergan, on the wing.
"At this point, we’re learning about competing, and we’re going to get better at it," Beilein said. "It’s still not where it is going to be, but this is a very positive step in the right direction."
The chaotic strategy worked for most of the first half, with Wisconsin turning the ball over an uncharacteristic six times. Michigan, though, didn’t score in the final 2:50 of the period, allowing the Badgers to build a 30-23 lead.
Those droughts have been common this season, and without LeVert, that isn’t likely to change.
"I don’t think that, unless we are on fire and every ball is going in, we can expect to be ahead in a lot of games," Beilein said. "That’s the way it is going to be, and we’re just going to have to give it everything we can."
The margin was 11 early in the second, but Michigan kept coming in waves. Five players scored in an 11-0 run that tied the game, and while the Wolverines never led after the intermission, they were always close.
"We kept getting ahead of them, but we could never put them away," said Gasser, who combined with fellow senior Frank Kaminsky for 31 points. "They kept making plays and never let us relax. That’s a tough team."
At the end of regulation, it was Michigan’s new leader who took over. Walton made a tough layup in traffic, hit two free throws on the next possession, then after Bronson Koenig made it 57-54, the sophomore took a pass from Aubrey Dawkins and drained an open 3-pointer to force overtime.
It wasn’t enough — the Wolverines didn’t have an answer for Kaminsky in the extra five minutes — but it sent a message to the rest of the conference.
"We know we stole a game tonight," said Kaminsky. "They might be young, but it is going to be hard for any team in the Big Ten to beat them, especially here."