Michigan basketball storms back for 67-59 comeback win at Wisconsin in return from COVID-19 – Detroit Free Press

Michigan basketball looked like a team that was playing its first game in 23 days. 

Then the Wolverines turned it on.

After trailing by 12 points at halftime, Michigan clawed its way back and took a one-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the second half en route to a 67-59 victory at Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

It took time for Michigan to shake off the rust from its two-week layoff. But the Wolverines clamped down on defense and made timely shots. Michigan is not where it was before the pause — but the Wolverines still had enough Sunday to earn a crucial road win over a ranked opponent.

Isaiah Livers scored a game-high 20 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with just under three minutes. Hunter Dickinson scored 11 points and tallied 14 rebounds (five offensive) and five key blocks. 

Second half push

Wisconsin's Aleem Ford defends Michigan's Isaiah Livers during the first half Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Madison, Wis.

Michigan looked down and out after a rusty first half. Yet the Wolverines picked themselves off the mat at halftime, down 39-27. They started the second half with a 15-6 run to cut the lead to three — and then it was game on. 

Michigan’s defense made the difference. The Wolverines held Wisconsin to well under one point per possession in the second half, rebounded the ball well and closed out on open shooters. Even as the offense was inconsistent, Michigan was able to close the deficit because it prevented the Badgers from scoring as easily as they did in the first half. 

Franz Wagner shoots against Wisconsin in the first half.

And eventually, the shots started falling. Franz Wagner scored 10 second-half points on 4 of 5 shooting, Eli Brooks added nine points, Livers had seven and Dickinson had six — including a key put-back that reclaimed the lead for Michigan with 1:46 remaining. Wagner’s running layup with 0:59 seconds left put the finishing touch on the improbable win. 

Long layoff is noticeable early 

Why was Sunday’s win so surprising? 

Because of the nature of Michigan’s pause. 

The Wolverines essentially went two weeks without touching a basketball. They could not use their team facilities and had to work out individually. Given the circumstances, some rust was to be expected — coach Juwan Howard also said as much when he spoke with reporters Friday — and that was on display in the first half. 

Michigan looked hesitant on offense, with players passing up open shots or making passes a split second late. Some shots were left short or were completely off the mark. Nothing came easy.

On the other end, Michigan gave up several wide-open shots, including a layup off a baseline inbounds play, and seemed a step slow. The Badgers put the Wolverines in difficult situations with dribble penetration, and then either passed the ball for an open shot or finished at the rim. The Wolverines didn’t seem quite in sync in the first half. But that changed after halftime, starting with the defensive effort. 

Livers came to play

Isaiah Livers drives to the basket against Aleem Ford during the first half.

While his teammates struggled offensively to start, Michigan’s senior forward and co-captain carried the load. Livers scored 13 of the Wolverines’ first-half points on 5 of 11 shooting, making three of his first five 3s. He was aggressive and followed up some of his misses with two first-half offensive rebounds. Excluding Livers, Michigan made 6 of 21 shots in the first half, and the game would’ve gotten out of hand had Livers not played so well. 

But his biggest shot didn’t come until much later. After Dickinson collected an offensive rebound off a missed 3, Livers received a pass and drained a go-ahead 3 that gave Michigan a two-point lead with 2:48 remaining. 

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter