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Michigan basketball upset by Wisconsin, 64-54, for 1st loss

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Michigan coach John Beilein says his team needed opportunity to grow from a loss, after defeat to Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc. on Jan. 19, 2019.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press

MADISON, Wisc. — It took 18 games and more than two months. 

But No. 2 Michigan basketball finally lost.

In a grinding, sloppy game, the Wolverines took a 64-54 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center, putting a damper on the best start in program history.

Michigan (17-1, 6-1 Big Ten) got almost nothing from its two leading scorers, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews, and the Wolverines compounded matters by turning over the ball 16 times. 

Ethan Happ scored a game-high 26 points for Wisconsin.

The loss stings for a number of reasons. After storming out to its best start in school history at 17-0, Michigan had a real chance to assume the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 rankings on Monday. Now, it’s likely either Tennessee or Virginia will replace Duke at the top spot next week.

Here are takeaways from Saturday’s game: 

Backbreaking sequence

Michigan was down six with just over three minutes to play. 

The Wolverines generated four extra chances: A Zavier Simpson steal, Simpson offensive rebound, and then two more offensive rebounds that led to a Jon Teske 3-pointer. 

That gave Michigan some life, and cut Wisconsin’s lead to one possession. 

But the Wolverines couldn’t take advantage.

Teske and Isaiah Livers hit a pair of 3s, but there were two empty possessions in between. And then nothing after. That’s not enough in crunch time, and it allowed Wisconsin to make the final score more lopsided than it should have been.

The offense struggles

Wisconsin had a 4 minute, 30-second scoring drought midway through the second half. 

But Michigan couldn’t take advantage, with wasted possessions and turnovers. 

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The Badgers tied the game at 43-43 with a 3-point play from Aleem Ford — the baskets that broke the Badgers’ drought. The Wolverines had plenty of chances to regain their lead, but the offense simply did not execute.

It was symptomatic throughout the game. Aside from Jordan Poole (14 points) and Teske (15), Michigan didn’t get much production from the rotation.

The two leading scorers, Brazdeikis and Matthews, couldn’t get going all game. Brazdeikis finished with zero points, and Matthews, who did not score in the first half, finished with just five points.

Turnovers costly 

Both teams entered the game playing at slow tempos. As Michigan has shown, that can be a winning formula as long as the offense executes and doesn’t turn the ball over. 

That wasn’t the case Saturday.

The Wolverines entered the game third in the country in turnovers per game, averaging just 9.5. They finished with 16, tied for a season-worst.

The Wolverines were careless with the ball in crucial moments. As Wisconsin pulled away in the second half, Michigan had three turnovers in a span of four possessions. The Wolverines threw the ball away in transition and in half-court sets. 

The turnovers only compounded the overall offensive struggles. 

Contact Orion Sang: osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.

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