Michigan downs Wisconsin

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When the initial Big Ten basketball tournament was contested back in 1998, Michigan captured the prize.

Twenty years later, the Wolverines duplicated the feat after beating Wisconsin 71-56 at the Verizon Center in D.C. last Sunday and became the lowest seeded team to win the trophy.

On Michigan’s trip east, its flight encountered severe winds on takeoff and skidded on the runway.

‘With all that they went through, they deserved this.’
– Michigan head coach John Beilein on win over Wisconsin

The Wolverines (24-11) may have used this harrowing incident to help galvanize the team as they claimed four wins in four days.

“Twenty years from now, all these guys can come back and be able to say that they won this tournament,’’ said Michigan head coach John Beilein. “With all that they went through, they deserved this.’’

Michigan senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. was selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 22 points with seven assists and six rebounds and also tossed in a career-best 29 points in an 84-77 win against Minnesota in Saturday’s semifinal.

The Wolverines held a 33-32 advantage at the break behind Walton’s 12 points and darted ahead 39-32 with 14:53 left on Walton’s three-pointer just moments earlier.

When Walton knocked in two free throws with 11:29 left on the clock, the Wolverines’ lead swelled to 46-36.

Wisconsin (25-9), the No. 2 seed in the tourney, drew within 51-45 and 6:10 left when senior point guard Zak Showalter (eight points with four caroms) stole the ball and raced down the floor for a layup.

The No. 8 seeded Wolverines (27 of 48 for 56.2 percent) cruised in front 54-45 when senior shooting guard Zak Irvin (15 points with seven rebounds and five assists) canned a trey as 5:45 remained.

Showalter’s three-pointer trimmed the Michigan advantage to 57-50 with 3:34 left.

The Wolverines forged ahead 65-52 when junior power forward D.J. Wilson (17 points with six caroms and three assists) had a dunk with 1:32 left and Walton put in a layup with 1:18 showing.

The Wolverines led 8-6 with 14:45 left and went on an 11-7 spurt and moved in front 19-13 as Irvin put in two layups and a 15-foot jumper.

Walton then tossed in three from three-point range as the Wolverines took command 30-20 with 5:22 on the clock.

Michigan’s lead was shaved to 30-25 after senior point guard Bronson Koenig (15 points) dropped in a three-point shot as 3:29 remained.

Koening’s trey with two seconds left before the intermission trimmed Michigan’s lead to 33-32.

The No. 24 Badgers nailed 22 of 56 from the floor for 39.2 percent.

Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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