CHICAGO — Bo Ryan looked away and covered his eyes as another Wisconsin shot sailed aimlessly in the first half.
By the end of Friday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, it was Michigan counterpart John Beilein who couldn’t watch — head buried in hands being the default look — and the Badgers who couldn’t miss.
In a game that jerked from peach-bucket futility to a name-your score second half, the sixth-ranked Wolverines fell to No. 22 Wisconsin 68-59 at the United Center.
Michigan’s 20-17 halftime lead gave way to a double-digit deficit that a furious late run could overcome. And now the pressure is on.
A Michigan team that once seemed built for a deep March run stumbles into the one-and-done NCAA Tournament with all the momentum of a slug.
A day after the Wolverines evoked the potential that once elevated them to the nation’s No. 1 ranking, they showed the other side of a team that is now 6-6 since the first week of February.
"We can’t continue to make the same mistakes because, sooner of later, we’ll be done," said Trey Burke, the league’s player of the year. "Hopefully we’ll learn from this loss."
Burke had a game-high 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting and seven assists and Tim Hardaway, Jr., added 14 points. Yet Michigan (26-7), which will likely drop to a No. 3 seed or lower when the national bracket is unveiled Sunday, could neither cash in on Wisconsin’s near-historic early ineptitude nor stop the Badgers later.
Wisconsin (22-10) returned the game to its peach-bucket roots in the first half. Stirring shades of Penn State’s 36-33 win over Wisconsin in 2011 — the lowest-scoring event in the league tournament’s 16-year history — the Badgers made 5 of 29 shots and remained stuck on 10 points more than 18 minutes into the game.
Yet, as Wolverines guard Hardaway said, "They did a great job of just staying in the game."
Or, more accurately, UM did a great job of letting them. The Wolverines weren’t much better, missing 10 of 29 shots and all four free-throw attempts.
Then the basket opened. Wisconsin guard Ben Brust, whose overtime heave from just inside midcourt took down UM in the schools’ only previous meeting, hit a 3-pointer on the Badgers’ fourth possession of the second half — and the shots continued to fall. Effectively working inside-out, Wisconsin made 15 of its first 22 shots in the second half and opened a 56-45 lead.
"When the ball went down a few times and we either drew a foul or got an easy bucket, it’s like anything else," Ryan said. "I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but my grandfather, when I fished with him, he always took me to the hole where we caught fish before."
Michigan never had an answer. Wisconsin shot 60.7 percent (17 of 28) and hit six 3s in the second half.
"There’s so many things we have to continue to get better at, and all it takes with a team that isolates you so much is one breakdown here or there," Beilein said. "The second half, they scored at will.
"We’ll fix it the best we can. But we’ve been trying to all year long. There’s a process that we all have to go through to get better at it. Hopefully we can shore it up enough to continue playing for a long time."
The Wolverines tore back — a 9-0 run capped by a reverse layup by Burke bringing them within two with 3:35 remaining. But 6-foot-11 Badgers reserve Frank Kaminsky answered with a short pull-up in the dying seconds of the shot clock, and Michigan would pull no closer.
Led by 16 points from Traevon Jackson — the son of Toledo native and former Ohio State star Jim Jackson — Wisconsin will play top-seeded Indiana in today’s semifinal.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.