Men’s Basketball: Wolverines Down Spartans, Advance to B1G Tournament Final

NEW YORK — Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, junior Moritz Wagner and sophomore Zavier Simpsonscored 15 points each to propel the fifth-seeded University of Michigan men’s basketball team to a 75-64 win over top-seeded Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday (March 3) at Madison Square Garden.

Simpson played one of his best games of the season; he played lockdown defense and chipped in seven rebounds, second-most on the team. He also went 6-of-8 from the free-throw line — with all six makes coming inside the last three minutes to help put away the game.

Wagner couldn’t find his shooting touch in the first half, but corrected course, as he scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half. He also grabbed eight rebounds. Abdur-Rahkman continued to hit big shots, including a back-breaking, shot-clock beating three-pointer that put Michigan up eight with 2:48 to play.

Senior Duncan Robinson (13 points) and junior Charles Matthews (12 points) also reached double figures.

The Wolverines struggled offensively in the first half, shooting 31 percent (9-of-29) from the field, but made the necessary adjustments. In the second half, U-M shot 67 percent (12-of-18) from the floor, made its free throws (20-of-27) and kept Michigan State off the glass (10 rebounds; had 23 in the first half).

Both teams came out with high energy, but it was Michigan that grasped the momentum early as U-M jumped out to a 13-6 lead at the first media timeout behind seven points from Simpson. The Spartans responded with a 10-0 run and held Michigan without points for four minutes until a pair of free throws by Robinson tied the score at 16.

A pull-up jumper from freshman Jordan Poole, a corner three from freshman Isaiah Livers and a strong take at the rim from Abdur-Rahkman with the shot clock expiring put the Wolverines up, 25-22, with 6:22 left in the half. But Michigan State held Michigan without a field goal the rest of the way thanks to a 7-1 run and toook a 29-26 lead into the locker room.

The Wolverines began the second half strong thanks to Wagner, who rattled off six consecutive points after Abdur-Rahkman opened the scoring with a three-pointer. Abdur-Rahkman, Robinson and Wagner all hit three-pointers within a 90-second stretch, but Michigan State kept it close to cutting its deficit to three, 50-47, on a three-pointer from Miles Bridges with 8:48 left. Simpson, as he did all afternoon, dribbled left at the rim and finished with his right to put the Wolverines up, 54-47, and forced a Michigan State timeout.

A three-pointer from Matt McQuaid cut the lead to five, 59-54, with 3:22 left and the Spartans were on the verge of grabbing momentum back. But with the shot clock winding down, Abdur-Rahkman fired a deep three-pointer that died on the back of the rim and fell through to put Michigan back up by eight. From that point on, the Wolverines made 11-of-15 free throws, icing the game.

The Wolverines look to make it back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles tomorrow (Sunday, March 4), when they face third-seed Purdue. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden and will be televised on CBS.

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