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Michigan basketball looked like a team that was playing its first game in 23 days.
Then the Wolverines turned it on.
After trailing by 12 points at halftime, Michigan clawed its way back and took a one-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the second half en route to a 67-59 victory at Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
It took time for Michigan to shake off the rust from its two-week layoff. But the Wolverines clamped down on defense and made timely shots. Michigan is not where it was before the pause — but the Wolverines still had enough Sunday to earn a crucial road win over a ranked opponent.
Isaiah Livers scored a game-high 20 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with just under three minutes. Hunter Dickinson scored 11 points and tallied 14 rebounds (five offensive) and five key blocks.
Second half push
Michigan looked down and out after a rusty first half. Yet the Wolverines picked themselves off the mat at halftime. They started the second half with a 15-6 run to cut the lead to three — and then it was game on.
Michigan's defense made all the difference. The Wolverines held Wisconsin to well under one point per possession in the second half. They rebounded the ball well and closed out on open shooters. Even as the offense was inconsistent, U-M was able to close the deficit because it prevented the Badgers from scoring as easily as they did in the first half.
And eventually, the shots started falling for Michigan. Franz Wagner scored 10 second-half points on 4 of 5 shooting, Eli Brooks added nine, Livers had seven and Dickinson had six — including a key put-back that reclaimed the lead for Michigan with 1:46 remaining. Wagner's running layup with 0:59 seconds left put the finishing touches on the improbable win.
Long layoff is noticeable early
Why was Sunday's win so surprising?
Because of the nature of Michigan's pause.
The Wolverines essentially went two weeks without touching a basketball. They could not use their team facilities and had to work out individually. Given the circumstances, some rust was to be expected — coach Juwan Howard also said as much when he spoke with reporters Friday — and that was on display in the first half of Sunday's game.
Michigan looked hesitant on offense, with players passing up open shots or making passes a split second too late. Some shots were left short or were completely off the mark. Nothing came easy.
On the other end, Michigan gave up several wide-open shots, including a layup off a baseline inbounds play, and seemed a step slow. The Badgers put the Wolverines in difficult situations with dribble penetration and then either passed the ball for an open shot or finished at the rim. As a team, the Wolverines didn't seem quite in sync in the first half. But that all changed after halftime, starting with the defensive effort.
Livers came to play
While his teammates struggled offensively to start the game, Michigan's senior forward and co-captain carried the load. Livers scored 13 of the Wolverines' first-half points on 5 of 11 shooting, making three of his first five 3s. He was aggressive and even followed up some of his own misses with two first-half offensive rebounds. Excluding Livers, Michigan made just 6 of 21 shots in the first half. The game would've gotten out of hand had Livers not played so well in the first 20 minutes.
But his biggest shot didn't come until much later. After Dickinson collected an offensive rebound off a missed 3, Livers collected a pass and drained a go-ahead 3 that gave Michigan a two-point lead with 2:48 remaining.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball storms back for 67-59 comeback win at Wisconsin