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Michigan paints another masterpiece title run through Big Ten

Moritz Wagner hoists the hardware as No. 15

Moritz Wagner hoists the hardware as No. 15 Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row with a 75-66 victory over No. 8 Purdue in the conference final Sunday, March 4, 2018, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Steven Ryan

The Empire State Building was ablaze in maize-and-blue Sunday night to acknowledge Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament victory at Madison Square Garden. Black-and-blue might’ve been equally appropriate.

No. 5 seed Michigan (No. 15 in the nation) played an old-school ground-and-pound game, going inside to its two centers, Moe Wagner and Jon Teske, on offense and playing disruptive defense to knock off No. 3 seed Purdue, 75-66, on Sunday night before a crowd of 15,063 at Madison Square Garden.

That’s back-to-back conference championships for coach John Beilein and the Wolverines (28-7), who also beat Nebraska and top seed Michigan State and will make a beeline for the NCAA Tournament after Selection Sunday next weekend.

Purdue (28-6), ranked No. 8 in the country, defeated Rutgers and Penn State at the Garden, and although this defeat cost the Boilermakers a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they also will be a dangerous out.

Wagner, a 6-11, 245-pound junior from Berlin, Germany, was voted MVP after scoring 17 points and shooting 7-for-11, including 3-for-6 from three-point range, in 17 minutes. Wagner’s backup, Teske, also came up huge, scoring 14 points and shooting 6-for-9.

Wagner has an impressive skill set and shooting range for a big man, and he showed off the latter when he took an inbounds pass from Duncan Robinson and drained a fall-away, turnaround three-pointer that barely beat the shot clock to give Michigan a 56-42 lead with 12:07 left. The crowd, heavily favoring Michigan, erupted.

“I didn’t know how much time was left on the clock, but when I got the ball from Duncan, I figured there wasn’t much, so I just turned around and shot it,” Wagner said. “It’s a great feeling when the ball goes through the net and the Garden cheers for you.”

The maize-and-blue fans had another chance to bring the noise when Teske took a pass from point guard Zavier Simpson (10 points, five assists, two steals) and jammed with two hands for a 66-48 lead.

“I have no words to explain it. That play just happened. Zavier gave me a great pass,” Teske said.

Wagner led the cheers from the bench. “I was so happy when he dunked. I got pumped up. You get emotional,” he said. “I know how hard he has worked. I know how good he is. I play against him every day.”

Purdue rallied briefly, but Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (15 points, four assists) hit a jumper to make it 73-61 with 2:17 left. The Boilermakers got the deficit down to 73-66 with 50 seconds left, but Abdur-Rahkman sank two free throws to ice it.

Michigan’s two-headed paint monster more than offset another strong game from Purdue behemoth Isaac Haas. The 7-2, 290-pounder from Alabama scored 23 points in 23 minutes, shot 9-for-12 and grabbed eight rebounds. But Haas did not get the usual help from the perimeter as the Wolverines’ defense limited Purdue to 4-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc.

Purdue coach Matt Painter had high praise for Wagner. “Those guards are good, but not everybody has a guy like Wagner who can make the threes, drive the ball and play with passion,” Painter said. “He makes them special.”

He lit it up.

n Automatic bids

Lipscomb 108, Florida Gulf Coast 96: Garrison Mathews scored 33 points and the Bisons (23-9) hit 15 of their first 18 shots on the way to a 32-point first-half lead in the Atlantic Sun championship game in Fort Myers, Florida. Zach Johnson scored 29 of his 37 points in the second half for FGCU (23-11).

Radford 55, Liberty 52: Carlik Jones made a long three-pointer at the buzzer for host Radford (22-12) in the Big South final. Scottie James scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half for Liberty (20-14).

Loyola (Chicago) 65, Illinois State 49: Donte Ingram scored 18 points and the Ramblers (28-5) built a 13-point lead early in the second half in the Missouri Valley final in St. Louis. It is Loyola’s first NCAA bid since 1985, when the Ramblers reached the Sweet 16. Illinois State is 18-15.— AP

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