WASHINGTON — What an incredible run for the Michigan Wolverines.
Wednesday afternoon in Ann Arbor, the team plane faced high winds that forced an aborted takeoff and the plane to slide off the runway. The next morning, Michigan finally got to D.C., and all it did after arriving was win.
Sunday at the Verizon Center, the Wolverines capped a tremendous four days of basketball with their fourth win, beating the Wisconsin Badgers 71-56 in the Big Ten Tournament championship game.
The win gave Michigan its first championship in the event since the inaugural edition back in 1998 as well as an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. At No. 8, the Wolverines became the lowest seed to ever win the tournament.
Derrick Walton Jr., who has looked like one of the best players in the country this week in Washington, starred once more with 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He also made four 3-pointers and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the 3-point line. Zak Irvin also had a terrific game with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Michigan's offense has been terrific much of this tournament and was again Sunday, the Wolverines shooting 56.3 percent on the game and better than 50 percent in both halves.
And how about the Michigan defense, which after a mighty entertaining if low-scoring first half during which Wisconsin shot 53.8 percent from the field held the Badgers to 26.7-percent shooting after halftime. Wisconsin went the first eight minutes of the second half without a basket.
The teams started hot from the field, making for an entertaining opening half. Michigan hit 12 of its first 19 shots, Wisconsin nine of its first 17. The teams played real tight until Walton created some separation with back-to-back triples — his third and fourth of the game — to make it a 10-point game with about five and a half minutes until halftime. But the Badgers rattled off seven straight from there and closed the half on a 12-3 run, capped by Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to polish off a mighty entertaining half of hoops.
Michigan shot 59.1 percent from the field, with Wisconsin not far off at 53.8 percent. The teams combined to make 11 first-half 3s, the Wolverines splashing home seven of them. Michigan led in the points off turnovers department with 11, while the Badgers have five second-chance points to the Wolverines' none. Koenig was the game's leading scorer after a half with 13 points, hitting three 3s. Walton had 12 points and four 3s.
Michigan opened the second half on an 11-2 run, with Irvin converting a three-point play to again give the Wolverines a 10-point lead. Wisconsin, after its hot-shooting first half, went the first eight minutes out of halftime without a made basket before Ethan Happ laid one in. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman stretched the Michigan lead briefly to 11 before a 7-2 spurt from Wisconsin had the Badgers within six with six minutes to play. But Irvin answered that run with a shot-clock beating triple to stretch the Wolverines' advantage back out to a more comfortable nine.
After Happ got two of those points back, Duncan Robinson and Zak Showalter traded triples to keep the margin at seven with three and a half minutes to play. Michigan kept answering, though, every time Wisconsin got some points, most emphatically with press-breaking, fast-break dunks from Abdur-Rahkman and D.J. Wilson. And a fast-break layup from Walton gave the Wolverines a 13-point lead with about a minute to play, allowing them to hang on for a remarkable win.
For Michigan to do what it did after enduring the emotionally and mentally exhausting events of Wednesday afternoon is simply incredible. Certainly the Wolverines' hot streak dates back long before than, as they had a fabulous finish to the regular season and entered this tournament as one of the league's hottest teams. This team, now with a Big Ten championship in hand, will be one no one wants to see in next week's NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin also did impressive things in the nation's capital, reestablishing itself as a squad to be reckoned with in March. After a stumble down the stretch of the regular season, the Badgers won three straight games by double figures and looked far more like the preseason favorites everyone pegged them as months ago.