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ANN ARBOR — For the dozens of red-clad fans who pierced the quiet late in the Michigan basketball team’s 75-62 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, the result could not have been sweeter.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said it seemed like everyone Whitmer graduate Nigel Hayes knew was scattered throughout the Crisler Center. The cheers came from every corner: from family, friends, former Panthers coach Bruce Smith.
There was only one guest of the Badgers freshman forward whose allegiance could not be confirmed. Chris Wormley, a second-year defensive lineman for the Michigan football team, rocked a Wisconsin parody shirt — with Bucky’s "W" flipped upside down into an "M" — as he and his buddy and high school teammate posed for a picture outside the winning locker room.
"He had about 900 tickets, and that isn't illegal, by the way," Ryan cracked of Hayes, who had four points. "The other players on the team gave him theirs."
Consider the party crashed.
The No. 22 Badgers sent the hosts staggering into next weekend’s Big Ten game of the season — a visit to Ann Arbor from Michigan State on Sunday — after a late Michigan rally could not mask its dreadful start.
With Michigan State’s stunning home loss to Nebraska allowing No. 15 UM (18-7, 10-3 Big Ten) to vault back alone atop the conference, the Wolverines swung from one extreme to the other Sunday before coming full circle in the final minutes.
A season-low 19-point first half and an 18-point deficit gave way to a heated charge as an unlikely star emerged. Sophomore guard Caris LeVert scored 18 of his career-high 25 points in the second half, including a pair of free throws that bookended a 9-0 run to cut Michigan’s deficit to three points at 52-49 with 6:16 left. By then, a crowd of 12,707 packed shoulder to shoulder was rocking, ready for the Wolverines to complete the season sweep of Wisconsin.
Yet Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers (20-6, 7-6) had the final answer. The 7-footer punished Michigan inside with a personal 7-2 run, then punctuated the win with a step-back 3 in the final seconds of the shot clock to push Wisconsin ahead 65-52.
"It was one of those games where you bury yourself, and you're going to have to play a super second half," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We played much better, but not good enough."
In all, it was a burn-the-film afternoon for the Wolverines, who lost for the third time in five games. Sophomore stars Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III were held to 11 and 10 points, respectively; freshman point guard Derrick Walton, Jr., was scoreless; and Michigan never gave itself much of a chance.
Calling the Wolverines zombies in the first half may be unkind to the living dead. They had zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, and zero energy. Michigan was unable to shoot (7-of-22) and unwilling to put in work on the glass, with Wisconsin swiping eight offensive rebounds in the first 14 minutes alone. If not for the Wolverines’ seven turnovers, there may have been no archaeological evidence they showed up at all. Wisconsin at one point led 34-16.
"A lack of energy and effort, as simple as that," forward Jon Horford said.
Beilein said, "I don’t agree with that."
"Everybody can always point fingers at people and say it was a lack of effort, and they're probably blaming themselves," he said. "No, Wisconsin is good, and we're going to have to play really good basketball to beat them. I'm not going to beat our guys up for effort."
Instead, his players vowed they would be boiling for next weekend’s showdown against the Spartans (20-5, 10-3). First place will be on the line and, as LeVert said, "we’ll be ready."
Hayes, meanwhile, left the arena with a wide grin. Though the contender for Big Ten freshman of the year had an off day — he was 1-of-6 from the field in 20 minutes — little could match celebrating the win with those that mattered most.
"Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s a little farther from home than I’d like," he said. "But it was really nice to have everyone here today."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.