John Beilein had a conversation with Ethan Happ near the end of No. 7 Michigan basketball’s 61-52 win over No. 19 Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon.
Happ told Beilein he hoped to see him again this season.
Beilein’s response: “No, Ethan — I don’t want to see you again.”
These two teams have had their share of battles during Beilein’s time in Ann Arbor. This game was no different.
The Wolverines (21-2, 11-2 Big Ten) survived a back-and-forth affair at home to remain in first place in the Big Ten standings and split the season series with the Badgers (17-7, 9-4).
“(Happ) is absolutely incredible and the minute that we weren’t supposed to double him, one of our guys left to double and they hit a big 3 against us,” Beilein said after telling the story of his postgame conversation. “It’s just really hard to defend what they do right now.”
Michigan took several early blows and found itself in an eight-point deficit after the first 5½ minutes.
Happ scored 14 first-half points on 7-for -10 shooting. The Wolverines guarded him one-on-one with Jon Teske, hoping to prevent Happ’s teammates from getting open looks.
The strategy worked. Both teams slogged their way through the first half, and although Michigan shot 7-for-20 on 2s, the Wolverines made 4 of 7 3s and went into halftime tied at 27.
The difference in the second half: Two outstanding individual performances from Charles Matthews and Teske.
Teske scored seven of Michigan’s first nine points, finishing with 17 on 6-for-10 shooting. Then Matthews took over, scoring 16 second-half points.
During one stretch where both teams traded scores on seven consecutive possessions, Matthews kept the Wolverines afloat with an assist and three baskets.
He sunk turnaround baseline jumpers, step-backs, pull-ups — all shots that hadn’t fallen for him in weeks.
“I thought we let him get too comfortable,” said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard. “I thought we did a decent job in the first half on him. He had the one layup in transition.
“But second half, we let him get free in the post on us to get some confidence. And when you get easy baskets like that, then the jump shots and the intermediate ones and the contested ones come easier.”
On the other end, Teske slowed down Happ.
Wisconsin’s star center missed his first two shots of the second half and committed his third foul by going over the back after the second miss.
He left the game with 18:26 left, and didn’t return until the 9:13 mark.
The lapse in play threw Happ off — as did Teske, who limited him to four second-half points on 2 of 9 shooting.
“The whole idea is guard him without bad fouls,” Beilein said. “Well, I think he guarded him as physical as he could guard him in the second half. He was physical with him and made him counter two or three times. … Jon was really good in the second half, also finishing at the rim.”
Michigan led for the final 17:33, but it was a tenuous advantage. Happ’s layup with 4:16 left made it 51-50.
And then the Wolverines clamped down.
Wisconsin made one basket over the final 4:15, as Michigan went on a 10-2 run to the end the game.
Matthews hit a pull-up jumper along the baseline to stretch the lead to five with over a minute left. A minute later, he hit a fadeaway by the elbow to ice the game. An alley-oop from Jordan Poole to Isaiah Livers in the final seconds put the exclamation point on one of Michigan’s biggest wins of the season.
The Wolverines split the season series with Wisconsin, preventing the Badgers from holding a tiebreaker over them.
That last point is especially important: Michigan controls its destiny, both in the Big Ten and the postseason. And Saturday’s result provided some payback.
“This was a bit of a revenge game, because they did beat us, give us our first loss,” Beilein said. “People storming the court, we don’t like that. Even though it’s the right thing to do — when you lose a game and somebody storms the court on you, there’s not like, ‘Wow, they’re storming the court on us,’ no, we don’t like that situation.
“Our kids were pretty fired up about playing because they haven’t lost much. It hits them really hard.”