Michigan will play for a conference championship, and for a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Derrick Walton Jr. scored a career-high 29 points to help the Michigan basketball team to an 84-77 win against Minnesota in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Eighth-seeded Michigan (23-11) manhandled the 4-seed Golden Gophers (24-9) early, building a 16-point lead midway through the first half. Without shooting guard Akeem Springs, who is out for the year with an Achilles injury, Minnesota was unable to create much of an offensive flow early. But the Gophers battled back to tie the game at 55-55 with 13:12 left in the second half, then whittled Michigan’s lead to 78-75 with less than a minute left in the game. But Walton and Zak Irvin sealed the win from the free-throw line.
Michigan capitalized on Moritz Wagner’s hot shooting early as he hit his first 4 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, and the Wolverines built a 29-13 lead.
Minnesota, however, cut that 16-point deficit to 6 inside the 5-minute mark of the first half. Minnesota made 7 of 9 shots in that span, part of an 18-8 run, and trailed 37-31 with 4:15 left before intermission. But Michigan answered with 6 straight points en route to a 47-36 lead at halftime.
Minnesota cut Michigan’s lead to 55-52 about 6 minutes into the second half on back-to-back 3-pointers by Dupree McBrayer, then tied the game at 55-55 on Nate Mason’s 3 — only Minnesota’s third 3-pointer of the game — at 13:07.
However, even with Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in foul trouble in the final 8 minutes, the Wolverines reopened their lead and never let go of it.
Why it happened
Michigan got a fast start early, sparked by Wagner’s 4-for-4 shooting effort in the first 5 minutes. Michigan also contained Minnesota at the end of the half to maintain its advantage as the Gophers made on 2 of their final 10 shots of the half.
What it means
Michigan advances to its first Big Ten Tournament championship game since 2014, and further strengthens its hold on an NCAA Tournament berth. The field will be announced Sunday.
Walton flourished in the second half, but Wagner scored 10 of Michigan’s first 15 points and finished with 17 on the game. Mason led Minnesota with 23 points and McBrayer added 14.
Minnesota, as a whole, stumbled early. Mason, who entered averaging 15.3 points per game, was kept to 6 points in the first half before scoring 17 in the second half.
Michigan will face either No. 2 Wisconsin or No. 6 Northwestern for the Big Ten Tournament championship at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.